After attending the University of Georgia in the early 1970s, Donna began a law enforcement career as one of the first female patrol officers in a small Atlanta suburb. She is a graduate of both the Northeast Georgia and Greater St. Louis (MO) police academies. Although her tenure as a sworn officer was relatively short (4 years), she would continue working in law enforcement and human rights issues in a variety of volunteer and professional positions for the next 30 years.
Growing up, Donna couldn't shake the feeling that she was somehow different from her peers. As a young adult, she realized this "difference" was in her sexual orientation, and she began the often difficult journey to self-acceptance and empowerment. "I'm a lesbian. No brag, just fact," she says. "It's just one part of my nature, and as much as I celebrate it, it doesn't define me any more or less than my sense of humor or intellect."
Living in the "closet" was necessary to be a cop in the deep South of the 1970s, where job applications to every major law enforcement agency contained clauses disqualifying from employment anyone even suspected of being gay or lesbian. And she was very good at living a double life, although she was deeply conflicted by working in a profession with high integrity expectations, while creating a climate in which people like her could be anything but honest.
In response to gross misinformation about gays and lesbians proffered by a St. Louis police academy instructor in 1976, Donna "came out" to the instructor and challenged his statements and source material. This could have been career suicide, but after her revelation, Donna experienced such tremendous relief that the lying, hiding, and denying were over that she was confident she could handle any obstacles the department or co-workers threw in her path. At least from that point on, she could live her life openly and honestly. Now, over three decades later, Donna still points to the decision to reveal her sexual orientation as the most important decision into which she ever stumbled.
Although the gay and lesbian community "grapevine" was rife with stories of gay and lesbian police officers being harassed, discriminated against, and placed in life-threatening situations without backup, none of those things ever happened to Donna while she was an officer, even after she came out. When she relocated to Los Angeles in 1977, however, she decided against applying to LAPD, because of that agency's legendary intolerance of gays and lesbians.
After a few years as a security officer for Goldwyn and Paramount movie studios, Donna sought a profession in which she could express her creative talents. "People at the studios always assumed that because I was a security officer, I didn't have a brain," she says. Because she'd worked for a large commercial printing company during her college years to pay her tuition, Donna switched gears and began focusing her creative passion on the printing and graphic arts industry, and obtained valuable experience managing franchise instant print shops for Postal Instant Press.
In 1985, Donna and a partner opened Plain Rap Press, a commercial printing company in the heart of Hollywood. Donna points to this event as another critical juncture in her life, where earning a living and being an activist merged. Their shop became a gathering place for start-up activist organizations of every variety, a supportive environment in which to explore the most effective means to communicate their message (given very limited human and financial resources) and hone their political strategies. Self-employment also provided Donna with the schedule flexibility necessary to carry out her growing community involvements.
In 1988, Donna was approached by Mayor Tom Bradley's liaison to the gay and lesbian community, Gabriel Bustamante, to become involved in the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Police Advisory Task Force. Bustamante had read an article she had written in a community newspaper about her life as a closeted lesbian cop, and believed her participation in the community's liaison organization to the LA Police Commission would be invaluable.
Shortly after joining the group, Donna became a civilian instructor of the gay and lesbian portion of the LAPD's human relations training for recruit officers at the world-renowned Los Angeles Police Academy. During her tenure, she oversaw the research and development of a formal academic curriculum on the topic. She conducted this POST-certified (Calif. Peace Officers Standards and Training) instruction for not only the recruit, line and command officers of the LAPD, but for many other California law enforcement agencies, including Whittier PD, Downey PD, Santa Monica PD, Ventura County Sheriffs Department, Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, and the Orange County Human Relations Commission. She was also a valued instructor at Chapman University's Criminal Justice Institute.
Donna was elected Co-Chair of the Police Advisory Task Force, which was composed of representatives from the many social, political, and spiritual organizations in the large Los Angeles gay and lesbian community. In 1991, under her guidance, the Task Force realized one of the goals that had eluded the community for over three decades: recognition of the first openly gay and lesbian officers of the Los Angeles Police Department.
On June 22, 1991, six extremely brave men and women came out publicly, and staffed an LAPD recruitment booth at the city's Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival. In a year which only a few months prior gave us the videotaped beating of Rodney King, that single event presented the department with its only positive media coverage, not only locally but nationally. Although Chief Daryl Gates threatened that this was a "one-time deal" that would not be repeated, public response was so overwhelmingly positive that the Police Commission overruled the chief, and the recruitment efforts have continued each year with increasing success.
In the wake of the Rodney King incident, the Mayor formed a commission, headed by Warren Christopher, to study the LAPD (in particular its alleged racist/sexist/homophobic culture) and make recommendations for its reform. As chairperson of the Police Advisory Task Force, Donna presented testimony before the Christopher Commission, in which she publicly called for the removal of Chief Daryl Gates. Though the audience had booed her initially when she announced the name of the organization she represented, Donna won them over to the point that at the end of her dynamic commentary, they gave her a standing ovation. She became an active member of many coalitions focused on law enforcement reform, and served on the Women's Advisory Council to the Police Commission, as well as the police department's newly-formed Community Advisory Councils.
In 1994, pursuant to Christopher Commission recommendations, the Los Angeles Police Commission appointed a group of approximately 50 civilians to participate in the department's disciplinary system as administrative trial board members. These public hearings, known as Boards of Rights, are convened to adjudicate allegations of serious police officer misconduct or malfeasance. Each board has three members, two sworn officers with the rank of Captain or above, and one civilian. In her nearly 12 years as a board member, Donna participated in nearly 100 Boards of Rights, on allegations ranging from simple discourtesy to more egregious conduct such as excessive use of force, spousal battery, integrity issues, and the corruption issues that have arisen through the statements of disgraced former officer Rafael Perez.
She earned a reputation for fairness and integrity in adjudicating complaints, as well as for steadfast support of the department's rank and file, often to the dismay of some of its commanders. At the opening reception of the 2nd International Conference of Gay and Lesbian Criminal Justice Professionals in September of 1995, then-LAPD Chief Willie L. Williams presented Donna with an award recognizing over 20 years of service to law enforcement and the Los Angeles community.
After residing for 15 years a few blocks from Venice Beach, Donna tired of the gang violence creeping into the once-bohemian community. In 1998, she and her partner moved to a quiet town in the San Bernardino mountains 100 miles from LA. It is here that she operates her business and indulges her passion for writing. She is nearing completion of her first detective novel, The One Left Wanting, and has authored "Beneath the Rainbow", a human relations curriculum for law enforcement dealing with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Her tremendous wealth of life, industry and business experience, coupled with her talent for creating a compelling narrative, make Donna J. Wade an excellent choice for any creative project.
Copyright 2007 Donna J. Wade / All Rights Reserved