However, some argue there is still a double standard. Lesbian officers may be more readily accepted because of an archaic perception of female police officers as overweight and masculine looking. And some gay officers may avoid outing themselves out of fear of damaging their careers.
Despite some progress, tolerance training for officers, some argue, should be expanded to put more emphasis on sexual orientation. Most training sessions focus primarily on race and religion.
In addition, some gay officers complain that they are not treated as equals because their partners are not entitled to the same benefits afforded their heterosexual colleagues.
"If I had a life partner, and I was killed in the line of duty, he would not be entitled to the same benefits as the wife of a police officer," said Detective Michael Carney, president of the New England chapter of the Gay Officers Action League. "If something was to happen to my partner, I wouldn't be entitled to bereavement pay. They seem to be willing to accept us but are not willing to give us equal benefits. Why not give us the same benefits as everyone else?"
Ball Player Goes to the Opposite Field
Like Forsythe, Billy Bean, 39, was constantly frustrated by his having to live a lie in front of colleagues — but in Bean's case it was his Major League Baseball teammates.
As detailed in his book Going the Other Way, Bean, who played six seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, seemed to be the prototypical All-American athlete. Women flirted with him and he heard all the locker room gay jokes.
All the while, Bean had to live with the secret that he was gay. He so feared that his teammates might find out — and perhaps his family through media leaks — that he was unable to attend the funeral of a lover who died from AIDS.
When Bean retired from baseball, he says he was finally able to find a happiness that had eluded him. He revealed his orientation to the world in 1999. However, Bean ultimately found he didn't publicly come out of the closet just for himself.
"You sort of become a role model," Bean said. "When I became associated with the Human Rights Campaign [the Washington, D.C.-based gay rights advocate organization], I really became aware of how I could help kids out there who are going through with the same experiences I have dealt with."
Yet no active baseball, football, basketball or hockey player has ever come out of the closet before the media. Last year, former NFL defensive end Esera Tuaolo admitted he was gay. And even earlier, former NFL players David Kopay and Roy Simmons admitted their sexual orientation in 1975 and 1992, respectively — but only after their playing days were over.
Some believe gay professional athletes hide their personal lives to avoid controversy and an invasion of privacy.
"There are active openly gay baseball and football players. They're out of the closet with their partners and maybe a few of their closest friends but they just haven't revealed themselves to their teammates and to the media," said Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of outsports.com.
Added Zeigler: "Will there ever be one [admittedly openly gay active football, baseball or basketball player]? 'Ever' is a long time to think about and I'd like to think there will be. We've made some tremendous progress so far. Just five years ago, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Ready for a Revolution