Neary 35 years ago, a Manhattan police officer did what no other officer had done, coming out as gay, publicly and proudly, during a City Council hearing. Now, he is being honored with a street in Greenwich Village. NY1's Michael Scotto filed the following report.
Washington Place and Sixth Avenue is now known as "Sergeant Charles H. Cochrane Way."
The pioneering police officer broke a barrier in 1981 when he went before a crowded City Council chamber and became the
first New York City police officer to publicly come out as gay.
"This was a man of courage. This was a hero," said Detective Brian Downey, president of the Gay Officers Action League.
Cochrane revealed his sexual orientation at a time when many police officers were openly hostile to gays.
Journalist Andy Humm was there when Cochrane stunned a packed Council hearing on a long-stalled gay rights bill.
"He gets up and says, 'I'm proud to be a New York City police officer,'" Humm said. "And then he says, 'I'm equally proud to be gay.' And the City Hall chamber, Council chamber almost fell out.
The location of the street renaming is significant. It was right here in 1982, in the basement of St. Joseph's Church, that Cochrane founded the Gay Officers Action League.
That first meeting here was a frightening one.
"Charlie told us that he had received a bomb threat on his answering machine at home so that if any of us wanted to leave, please do so," said Dr. Patrick Suraci, a former NYPD psychologist. "All 11 of us remained."
Now, GOAL boasts 2,000 members in the tri-state area, and the broader gay community has won widespread acceptance.
"I'm actually getting choked up now thinking about it," said police officer Lydia Figueroa. "I definitely admire him."
Cochrane's courage took on even more significance in the aftermath of the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando last weekend.
"We will not be chased back into the closet. We choose to love. And that is what Sergeant Cochrane represented," said City Councilman Corey Johnson of Manhattan.
Cochrane served 20 years as a police officer, retired in 1987 and died in 2008. His sisters accepted a painting by an officer as they reflected on what Cochrane did when few others were willing to stand with him.
"They were all in hiding, and they shouldn't have been, and I'm glad they're not now," said Mary Anne Cochrane Sundresh, Charles Cochrane's sister.