As one of the first openly gay RCMP officers in Canada, Cpl. Robert Ploughman takes his status as a symbol with a dose of good humour.
Since he came out in 2001 while at the RCMP academy, Ploughman has been called the first surviving out gay man on the force. He organized the B.C. RCMP’s entrance into the Vancouver Pride parade, as well as a host of other queer community-based policing initiatives. Now, he tells his story in an “It Gets Better” video produced by the RCMP Surrey detachment.
“And I’ve been the officer in charge of Wreck Beach for 11 years,” he adds with a laugh. “This stuff writes itself, eh?”
Long before he was assigned to the university RCMP detachment, Ploughman considered joining the Catholic ministry. But he realized that he was attracted to men after visiting a gay bar in St. John’s, where he saw a bunch of “normal-looking guys and girls.”
“I said to myself, ‘My god, I’m gay, I’m done,’” he says in the video. “I realized there was something in me I had to deal with that I’ve never dealt with.”
It’s a story that’s well-known to those in Vancouver’s gay community. In 2002, as a recruit at the university detachment, Ploughman met with queer leaders as part of a required community profile. “You pick a community and you learn about it and make connections, because we’re all about community policing,” said Ploughman. Around the same time he met with leaders, Ploughman was profiled in Xtra West, a LGBT news publication. The piece declared that early in his career, Ploughman was “already a legend.” While the tone of the piece was almost reverential, there was an underlying fear for Ploughman. A colleague was quoted saying he feared the RCMP would “pulverize and spit out” the gay recruit.
Obviously that hasn’t happened. So is that a reflection on Ploughman’s strength as an individual, or has the force changed?
“I think it’s the force,” he says. “There are many of us. It’s almost to the point where it’s not an issue.”
He said the RCMP force is starting to better reflect the society it polices. “Most of the members now are university-educated, a lot more of them come from urban backgrounds.”
He doesn’t deny his role in this shift, but he says he’s just a small part of it. When he started at the university detachment, he knew of two gay male officers in the RCMP in the Lower Mainland. He now knows of 25. And he’s quick to point out that there have been openly gay women on the force dating back to the 1970s.
“I’ve only got a bachelor’s of sociology.… I think you’d need a master’s of sociology [to explain] that,” he says.
Ploughman’s success in getting the RCMP into the Pride parade is more evidence that he’s part of a larger shift. When Ploughman started pushing for the RCMP to join the march, there were concerns about participating in an event with public nudity.
“We didn’t get in [in 2002],” he says. “I guess the time wasn’t right. But we’ve been in the Pride parade for the past five years. This past year, I think we had 50 people [in the parade]. A lot of the senior officers too. They heard what a good time it was.”
Ploughman said he’s been getting lots of calls from reporters following the release of the “It Gets Better” video. If someone’s looking to talk to a gay Mountie, he’s still the go-to guy. But that’s another thing he sees changing; though Ploughman realizes the significance of the way he’s lived his life, he is now one of many RCMP officers who have come out and told their story.
“Locally, anyway, I’m one of the first males to be really open about it, and really reach out to the gay community,” he says. “But we’ve come a long way in 11 years.”