Charmaine McGuffey knew she wanted to be a police officer as early as 14 years old — but when Ohio’s newly elected Hamilton County sheriff told her family, she got the first glimpse of just what an uphill battle her dream would be.
“[My uncle] told me right then and there, ‘That’s not possible. It’s not going to happen. Get it out of your head because women cannot be cops,’” she tells Gretchen Carlson in Friday's episode of PEOPLE (the TV Show!). “I did not, obviously, let that deter me.”
McGuffey has let little deter her; after rising in the ranks to major in the sheriff’s office, she became the department’s first woman and first LGBTQ person to be elected sheriff earlier this month.
To get there, she beat her former boss in the Democratic primary, a boss that once fired her in a controversial 2017 termination she says stemmed, in part, from her sexual orientation.
“I have a responsibility to the LGBTQ community to be true to who I am,” she says. “To who we all are LGBT, because for too long we have had so many barriers placed in front of us and… it’s been difficult for many of us to continue on. I hope that I can remove some of those barriers for people who are in those minorities, who aspire to public office or whatever it is you aspire to do.”
McGuffey says that in the early days of her career, her male colleagues “just didn’t know what to do” with their female counterparts, and that because of their discomfort, she wasn’t always treated right.
“Some of the men decided that they would treat us very hostilely, and that was a problem and we did face that,” she says.
As for her personal life, McGuffey — who is happily married to wife Christine Sandusky — says she did her best to keep the fact that she is gay out of the conversation for fear it would affect her career, though she was outed 10 years ago after a pair of police officers confronted her as she left a gay bar.
Her termination came following an internal affairs report that accused her of creating a hostile work environment, though McGuffey says her colleagues were unhappy with the fact that she’d been vocal in her stance that officers should be held accountable for their behavior, including use of excessive force and sexual harassment. She has since filed suit against the sheriff’s department, for which a trial date has been set for January.
After taking several years off following the “devastating” firing, McGuffey says a call encouraging her to run against Jim Neil, her former boss who’d fired her, turned things around.
Neil offered McGuffey his congratulations and confirmed her firing to PEOPLE, and said the investigation involved interviews with 31 people, and as a result, she was reassigned to a different position. When she failed to report to her new assignment, she was fired, he said.
“Really, that was a decision in my life when I said, ‘You know what? I can do a better job than him. I absolutely should be the sheriff,’” she says.
After beating Neil in the primary with a landslide 70% of the vote, she bested her Republican opponent in the general election earlier this month.
“Whatever little young girl is out there hearing the word, ‘No,’ she knows that that actually means, ‘Go get your dreams,’” she says.
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