Brave officer’s name now flies proudly over Village

Mary Anne Cochrane Sundresh, Charles Cochrane’s sister holds up a copy of the new street sign.
Unveiling the new Sergeant Charles H. Cochrane Way sign, from left, Cochrane family members, along with, from right, Borough President Gale Brewer, Councilmember Corey Johnson and Chief of Department James O’Neill. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY TEQUILA MINSKY | The officers, about 30 of them, were lined up two abreast, those with gold shields in the front. They were out and they were proud. Standing to the left of the seating area set up on Washington Place and Sixth Ave., these New York Police Department officers were celebrating, along with family, other officers and V.I.P.s, the co-naming of this stretch of Washington Place as Sergeant Charles H. Cochrane Way.

Thirty-five years ago, at a contentious City Council hearing on a bill for gay rights, Sergeant Cochrane announced that he was gay. It was 1981, and Pat Burns, the vice president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, spoke against the bill at the hearing. Burns testified that he didn’t know any officers who were openly gay. It was at that point that Cochrane stood up and came out as a gay member of the N.Y.P.D.

In opening remarks at Village ceremony last Friday, Police Chief of Department James O’Neill said, “Charlie had come out as a gay cop during a time when gay cops were afraid of losing their jobs and being physically harmed.”


The first meeting for gay cops — members of Gay Officers Action League, or GOAL — was held in the St. Joseph’s Church basement, right at that intersection, which is why Washington Place was picked to honor Cochrane.

Detective Brian Downey, the current president of GOAL, spoke movingly of the pioneering sergeant.

“Today is a celebration, a celebration of a great man, a celebration of a man who exhibited great courage,” he said.

Cochrane died of cancer in 2008.

A painting by this sergent presented to Sgt. Chochrane's sisters.
A police sergeant presented a painting he did of Sergeant Chochrane to the late officer’s sisters.

A color guard started off the ceremony, with the rainbow pride flag, a symbol of the L.G.B.T. community, flying alongside the N.Y.P.D. and American banners.

Councilmember Corey Johnson spoke at the dedication as did Cochrane’s sisters Mary Anne Cochrane Dundresh and Nancy Cochrane Akgun. The sisters were presented with a painting of Sergeant Cochrane done by a fellow N.Y.P.D. officer.

Following the unveiling of the new sign, Borough President Gale Brewer and journalist Andy Humm compared notes. They were both at that City Council meeting when Sergeant Charles H. Cochrane came out.

Gale Brewer and Andy Humm, both at the City Council session when Sgt. Charles Cochrane announced that he was gay and a policeman.
Borough President Gale Brewer, left, and reporter Andy Humm were both at the City Council session when Sergeant Charles Cochrane publicly announced that he was gay.