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Former SPD Chief speaks to the SGN: Adrian Diaz embraces Gay Latino identity

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Elaine Thompson / AP
Elaine Thompson / AP

Former Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, who stepped down from the position last month due to a swirl of allegations, came out as a Gay Latino man on KTTH during a June 17 interview with Jason Rantz. The SGN spoke with Diaz about his journey and experiences coming out, as someone who served in a high-profile position.

"About four years ago, I really started to kind of evaluate myself, because I started to realize there just wasn't any attraction to women — I found attraction to men," Diaz said. "As a married man, yes, I have three kids, [but] I realized something is just different. You kind of try to ignore it a little bit, but then you're thrown into COVID."

Diaz was assistant chief when the George Floyd protests unfolded, and by July of 2020, he was promoted to deputy chief. Chaos within the department, combined with making sure his children were maintaining positive social networks during this period of isolation, made Diaz feel like it wasn't the right time to come out. He said he wrestled with that question for a while that year.

"There's only been one major city [with] one Gay man that's led ... as a chief that I know of in the last ten years, if not longer," Diaz said, citing Chris Magnus, a former chief at the Tucson Police Department. "It doesn't happen. There are some females that do lead police departments as Lesbians, but again, it's a rarity — it doesn't happen all the time. As I'm going for the job as a chief, I'd been in conversations with different groups of people, and they've expressed their different struggles."

Finding the right time
Diaz said his goal was to conduct his work with compassion and kindness, and he didn't want people to use his Gay identity against him.

"People prey on your weaknesses," Diaz told the SGN. "I'm not saying it was the right thing to do or the wrong thing. It was just something I felt like, 'This is probably not the right time.' And I tell people: is there any right time? I think the right time is when you're ready for that time to come."

Even though Diaz kept his identity private for a while, he said he never felt ashamed of it. His primary concern was his three children, and he knew coming out publicly wouldn't have been easy for them back then, or even now. He was also questioning how coming out would impact his relationships and connections within the community as an out chief, and acknowledged how some people might not feel comfortable with that.

"I think we can all say, if you lose it, it's not worth it to have it. But as a chief, I don't have that luxury. I serve everybody," Diaz said.

Diaz began serving as interim chief of SPD in August 2020. In September of 2022, Mayor Bruce Harrell appointed Diaz to serve as the permanent chief. The search for someone to fill that position, though, led Diaz to continue to grapple with coming out.

"If I were to come out during the chief search, [people would say,] 'Are you only doing it because you're in the chief search?'" Diaz said. "In my mind it was always, 'I'm not being who I am.' I think that was probably one of the hardest things to go through in this process — to never feel like you could just be you. When I decided I was no longer fearful, it was time for me to just be me."


Coming out to his inner circle and family
Working alongside the LGBTQ+ community and communities of color was a focus of Diaz's policing over the past 18 years of his career, he said, and not once did he ever contemplate his sexuality. He has friends who identify as LGBTQ+, and through conversations with them, he began to realize this is who he is, and to question why he didn't recognize it earlier on.

"I'm learning to come to terms with how life moves you, and how it guides you, and sometimes you don't have that control — sometimes you don't know who you were at the very beginning," Diaz said.

In 2001, Diaz had a Lesbian officer of 34 years at that time tell him that she thought he was Gay, he said. After coming out publicly, Diaz said this officer shared words of support. He told the SGN that sometimes people see things you don't always see in yourself, that all lives are a journey, and that we don't always see what's right in front of us, even though others might.

Diaz came out to his inner circle about four to six months ago and spoke with Mayor Harrell about it four months ago, so as to prevent them from being caught off guard.

"When I was no longer in the position [of chief], it was kind of easy, because the weight of this was all off my shoulders," Diaz said.

Diaz admitted he thought coming out would take a harder toll on his kids, but he was overwhelmed with their support.

"I was so impressed with their support, that they didn't care who I was, and I love them for it," Diaz said. "You always want to know, have I raised my kids right?"

Diaz's 14-year-old told him that if people don't like him for who he is as a Gay Latino man, then they can kick rocks. "I really appreciated them showing that love and support," Diaz said.

Diaz chose to come out publicly on his children's last day of school, because he didn't want them to experience any bullying or rude comments from other students. Now, they're on summer break, spending time with friends and playing soccer, baseball, and football.

"I"m very grateful for their strength, because you don't know what the impact is on them," Diaz said.

Is the SPD welcoming of openly Queer officers?
Overall, Diaz believes the SPD has been accepting of LGBTQ+ people but admitted that not everything has been accepted and that many have fought to ensure that the department advances Queer issues.

"I did have silence for a long time, in a sense of I wasn't out, but I think that a lot of officers were like, 'You've always been the one that supported all of us on LGBTQ issues,'" Diaz said.

Diaz said he's currently employed by the Seattle Police Department but is focusing on project-based work with Mayor Harrell's office. He brought up how the SPD has openly Queer officers that he describes as the "true heroes" of the department.

"They've had to deal with the hardships of going through a department, and sometimes individuals not being all right with them. Or, sometimes trying to get promoted and feeling like they didn't have an advantage to being promoted," Diaz said.

Allegations of predatory and discriminatory behavior
Four female SPD officers filed a claim on April 25 against the SPD and the City of Seattle for creating hostile work environments, and subjecting them to sexual discrimination and sexual harassment. The claim for $5 million accuses Diaz of engaging in discriminatory and predatory behavior.

Officer Judinna Gulpan, one of the claimants, said she experienced predatory behavior from Sgt. John O'Neil. Around October 2022, she was interviewed by Diaz and others, and landed a permanent role in the Public Affairs Unit.

The claim outlines gender discrimination and sexual harassment Gulpan allegedly experienced from O'Neil, and accuses him of impeding her chances of becoming sergeant because she did not show an interest in him, other than as a supervisor. In October the following year, Gulpan received an email stating she was eligible for a review for a promotion. When she reached out to O'Neil, he posted negative reviews of her, and she was passed over for the sergeant position, the claim states.

The claim also says that Diaz downplayed her concerns about O'Neil when she brought them forth. "Chief Diaz essentially rewarded and condoned Sgt. O'Neil's behavior, even after he knew that he was a bully and had engaged in discriminatory and harassing behavior," the claim states.

Diaz is also being accused of predatory behavior by Officer Valerie Carson, who claimed he paid special attention to her, and would talk to her at the end of her shifts, causing her to be late getting off work. The claim states that Diaz would talk about himself or his philosophy, rather than work, in these conversations.

Due to the lack of a gender-affirming changing room, Carson — depending on her daily assignments — would have to change from her uniform into civilian clothes. The claim said the entire staff knew she changed her clothes on a regular basis, and would alert her prior to walking past her cubicle to ensure they wouldn't catch her in the midst of changing.

"Chief Diaz, on the other hand, would simply walk into Ms. Carson's space without making an announcement, even though he knew she could be changing. Ms. Carson believes that Chief Diaz did this because he was hoping to catch her changing her clothes," the claim states.

Diaz brought up allegations about grooming Carson. "That's just not true. It's just false," he said.

The claim states on New Year's Eve in 2020, Diaz asked Carson to drive with him around the city, and that she insisted on a detail.

"Ms. Carson was afraid that the Chief would perhaps make an advance at midnight when people traditionally share a kiss to bring in the new year. He relented and agreed to a detail. Nonetheless, Ms. Carson thought it was odd that the SPD Chief would want to go out alone with a female patrol officer on one of the busiest and hectic nights in the City without a security detail," the claim states.

Diaz told the SGN that every New Year's Eve, he takes photographs of fireworks displays, and that's what he was doing that night.

"I didn't ask her to go on a ride-along. I go, 'Well, if you need anything, I'm always out,' and I actually took photos," Diaz said.

On another instance where Carson and Diaz were in the car together, according to the claim, the topic of her newly bought home popped up, and Carson noted how she needed her windows replaced. The claim says Diaz offered to replace the windows, unsolicited.

The claim said this conversation was significant because Diaz allegedly offered to help do some work on a different SPD staffer's home, and that the pair were involved in an affair.

Diaz shared his version of events with the SGN.

"She said she had leaks in her roof and had to replace her windows. She was crying, so I said, 'Well, if you need help then I can help you. It doesn't take much to replace it,' because this is what I did before I got this job. My dad was a plumber/contractor, so I fixed houses and did remodels," Diaz said, adding how he went to former SPD Chief Carmen Best's house to take a look at a backyard remodel.

The SGN could not confirm Diaz's visit to Best's house, or whether his father was a contractor.

"It's my little safe haven of things to do," Diaz said, mentioning how he helped a 90-year-old neighbor with plumbing issues but had zero interest in sleeping with her. "Those are the things that I'm having to address, but it didn't matter whether I was Gay or not to address them. Coming out — that isn't a big deal to it."

Confident of vindication
One of the reason's Diaz came out during this chapter of his life is because while there was litigation during his tenure as police chief, he was unable to speak out. When he was demoted from the position, he felt like he finally could.

"I'm confident that I will be vindicated and move on," Diaz said. "Just because you're a Gay man doesn't mean that you can't be a misogynist. I'm very aware of that, but I know who I am. I know how I treat people. I've worked in communities of color, I've worked in the LGBTQ community for 18 years. I know how I treat people, so this [coming out] has nothing to do with [the allegations]."

Diaz said he's had one unfounded complaint in his first 26 years of his career, but about 12 within the last year.

"I made a couple of demotions, and that's what happens sometimes. There's a lot of scrutiny when it comes to leadership. People want to lead — I get it, but I can tell you I know how I treat [people] and how respectful I've always been ... Coming out as Gay doesn't negate that," Diaz said.

Moving forward
Diaz wants people to understand that no one knows what anyone else is going through in life, including lived experiences, hardships, and trauma.

"I want to see a world that's accepting. You don't even have to announce whether you're Gay or not — just accepting of the world," Diaz said.

For the last 18 years, Diaz was involved in many of Seattle's Pride events, and he said he's likely to continue that tradition.

"This feels a little bit weird of a month because I'm not in that role in the police department, so I've kept a little bit of a lower [profile], but that's probably what my month will be about," Diaz said.

Diaz said he will continue to work on special projects within Harrell's office, but is open to the opportunity of becoming police chief in another city.