Bonnie Nora Davenport O’Neal broke ground as the first transgender Washington, DC, police officer.
Born Ormus W. Davenport III on Feb. 25, 1943, in Buffalo, NY, Officer Bonnie Davenport’s education and early career was robust. An Air Force veteran, she studied at American University, the George Washington University, and earned a Doctor of Public Administration degree from Pacific Western University.
Officer Davenport began her service with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in 1970. She received commendations for undercover work as part of the celebrated “Operation Sting” and “Gotcha Again” campaigns, which exposed stolen property rings totaling $5+ million and resulted in many arrests in the mid-70s. In 1978, she underwent gender affirmation surgery, which required about a year off from active duty. She returned to service in 1979, thanks to a Washington, DC, antidiscrimination executive order issued by former Mayor Walter E. Washington. The order had been expanded in 1975 to protect employees who undergo sex changes.
Greg Miraglia, President and CEO of “Out to Protect,” says that Davenport’s case would have been quite unusual at the time, hence a 1979 Washington Post article was written about her return to active duty. “LGBT officers didn’t really start making their way publicly into law enforcement until the mid- to late-1970s; transgender would have been extremely rare. San Francisco was openly recruiting LGBT officers at that time, but a transgender officer serving openly was unheard of.”
Referring to her return to service, Davenport later said that “Police work gets into your blood. I came back because I had to decide if I would be better off returning to some of the old parts of my life. When I came back, I felt as though I had never left.” That said, she faced harassment and taunts when returning to work, despite DC law forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation.
By 1983, she was paired with partner Bobby Almstead—the first openly gay male officer for MPD. They specialized in family disputes and received praise for their work, with leadership praising the breadth of perspectives they brought to their work. Their supervising sergeant acknowledged they were more willing to “spend the extra time to resolve the situation rather than just make an arrest.”
Miraglia sees the opportunities and the pressure for such trailblazers. “The first person typically has the most difficult time. They were often people who worked extra hard to show they could do it well, and in so doing, they set the tone and proved LGBT expectations can do the job. If they’re failures, they get a lot of ‘told you so’s.’ There is a lot of pressure, and they might even be set up to fail from the start.”
Davenport, who was married to Earl O’Neal, retired as a master patrol officer in 1991 with 20 years of service with the MPD. Not content to focus on public safety on land, she also served as a captain with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 329 in Hamburg, N.Y. During retirement, she was a communicant of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Fredonia, NY, where she was a member of the Altar and Rosary Society. She was also a member of the Westfield Fish and Game Club, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Trailblazing police officer Bonnie Nora Davenport O’Neal passed away at her home in Fredonia, NY, on November 17, 2009.
About the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund
Established in 1984, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the fallen, telling the story of American law enforcement, and making it safer for those who serve. The Memorial Fund maintains the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., which honors the names of all of the 23,229 officers who have died in the line of duty throughout U.S. history. The National Law Enforcement Museum at the Motorola Solutions Foundation Building is committed to preserving the history of American law enforcement and sharing the experiences of service and sacrifice for generations to come.