Compensating for Sexual Identity: How LGB and Heterosexual Australian Police Officers Perceive Policing of LGBTIQ+ People

Date01 May 2020
Published date01 May 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(2) 251 –273
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219894431
Compensating for Sexual
Identity: How LGB and
Heterosexual Australian
Police Officers Perceive
Policing of LGBTIQ+ People
Toby Miles-Johnson1 and Jodi Death1
Police officers are highly criticized for their differential policing of people categorized
by identity. One such group who has experienced differential policing is the lesbian,
gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ+) community. Contributing
new knowledge to the extant policing literature regarding intersectional identities of
Australian police officers and perceptions of policing, this research applies Social Identity
Theory to understand differences between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and
heterosexual self-identified general-duties police officers (N = 349) and policing of
LGBTIQ+ people. Using an online survey, results suggest the sexual identity of a
general-duties police officer does shape perceptions of policing of LGBTIQ+ people.
Furthermore, there are distinct differences in the way heterosexual and lesbian, gay,
and bisexual (LGB) self-identified officers perceive police engagement with LGBTIQ+
people, with LGB and heterosexual self-identified officers equally compensating for
their sexual identity in terms of policing LGBTIQ+ people and distancing themselves
from the LGBTIQ+ community.
police, policing, sexuality, LGBTIQ+, identity
In Western societies, social structures uphold the idea that dominant groups such as the
police have the potential to enforce value systems and ideologies upon minor groups
1Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Corresponding Author:
Toby Miles-Johnson, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland 4001, Australia.
894431CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219894431Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeMiles-Johnson and Death
252 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 36(2)
such as members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer
(LGBTIQ+) community (Miles-Johnson, 2016; Pratto et al., 2013). As such police
have discretionary power to utilize policing practices influenced by officers’ value
systems and ideologies (Dai et al., 2011). The interaction between LGBTIQ+ people
and law enforcement officers has often been dictated by the reinforcement of values
and ideologies based on heteronormative perceptions of behavior (Owen et al., 2018).
Many incidents of policing between officers and LGBTIQ+ people in Australia, the
United States, and the United Kingdom, have resulted in negative outcomes for
LGBTIQ+ people with numerous pieces of literature demonstrating problematic rela-
tionships between Australian police as one dominant social group and LGBTIQ+ peo-
ple as another less powerful social group1 (Dwyer et al., 2017; Mennicke et al., 2018;
Owen et al., 2018).
Under Social Identity theory (SIT), when a person identifies with a social group,
the idea is that this categorization provides a definition of who that individual is in
terms of the defining attributes or characteristics of the group’s collective identity. In
this way, the categorization becomes the individual’s self-definition of their identity
and shapes a person’s identity individually and as a group member (ingroup member-
ship) (Tajfel, 2010). Social identity based on self-categorization within a group
becomes a vital part of an individual’s self-concept, and to maintain positive self-
esteem of the group and the individuals within it, people within groups strive to dif-
ferentiate themselves and their group from others (Miles-Johnson, 2016; Robinson,
1996). Unlike other exclusionary and inclusionary practices such as “othering” (which
explains power dynamics within relationships), social identity is established through
comparative analysis of one group against another regardless of whether there is basis
for comparison or an actual, imaginary, or vicarious relationship between groups.
For example, if an individual from one group perceives a threat to their identity by
an individual or others from another group (either actual or perceived threat) the
individual will act upon the threat thereby differentiating behaviorally or communi-
catively from the individual or group who may threaten their identity (Miles-Johnson,
2016; Robinson, 1996). The strength of SIT therefore is that it can capture the com-
plex dynamics of intergroup perceptions at both an individual and group level. The
complex dynamics between police and members of LGBTIQ+ communities have
been researched in many studies examining policing of minority group members (see
Dario et al., 2019; Israel et al., 2016).
There is however, little research which examines how Australian LGBTIQ+ police
officers who work as general-duties police officers (and not as community liaison
officers) police members of the LGBTIQ+ community in comparison to heterosexual
general-duties officers. Canales (2000) and Miles-Johnson (2016) state that grouping
LGBTIQ+ people into a homogeneous group may contribute to the “othering” of
sexual identity associated with the LGBTIQ+ community by agencies such as the
police. Yet grouped sexual identity based on heteronormative assumptions of sexual
identity and consequently nonnormative sexual identities such as those expressed by
members of the LGBTIQ+ community is one of the salient identity markers many
cultures use to categorize and judge others.

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