“When I spoke up, I was told to go with the flow," said Charmaine McGuffey, who was elected Hamilton County sheriff in Ohio

By Rachel DeSantis
November 05, 2020 03:14 PM
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Charmaine McGuffey
| Credit: Charmaine McGuffey for Sheriff/Facebook

Ohio’s Hamilton County has elected its newest sheriff, and the winner is a 62-year-old lesbian woman who, in the primaries, bested a former boss who once fired her.

Charmaine McGuffey will be the first woman and first LGBTQ person to be Hamilton County sheriff when she takes office, a notable achievement considering she has said she was bullied and ultimately fired for being an openly gay woman.

"My role is to be an example of what you can accomplish as an LGBT person because there's a lot of discrimination out there," McGuffey told WVXU last month. "There were lots of times that I struggled to keep my sexual orientation to myself because I knew that if it got out it would hurt my career."

McGuffey beat opponent Bruce Hoffbauer in this week’s race after previously winning against her former boss Jim Neil in the Democratic primary.

After working her way up the ranks in the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office all the way to major in 2013, McGuffey was fired by Neil in 2017 following an investigation into complaints that she’d created a “hostile work environment,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

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.

McGuffey later sued the sheriff’s department, claiming that some of her colleagues took issue with the fact that she was an openly gay woman, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

Charmaine McGuffey
| Credit: Charmaine McGuffey for Sheriff/Facebook

In the 2018 suit, McGuffey alleged that male majors got preferential treatment, and claimed that Neil once told her in response that some men “don’t like working for a woman,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

The lawsuit also reportedly alleged that the reasons given for her firing were a “false pretext for discriminating and terminating [McGuffey] because of her gender, her failure to conform to traditional female stereotypes, her sexual orientation and her open criticism of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department's excessive use of force against inmates."

During her campaign for sheriff, McGuffey repeatedly labeled herself a whistleblower who stood up against the use of excessive force, and who wanted to hold officers accountable for their use of force.

“When I spoke up, I was told to go with the flow. I refused to stand by silently and ultimately, it cost me my job. I decided to run against him in the primary and I won. I’m running for sheriff because I know we can do better,” she said in a campaign video.

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McGuffey won this week’s race with 52 percent of the vote against Hoffbauer, who in 1990 shot and killed an unarmed Black man named Walter Brown, WVXU reported. According to the Enquirer, Hoffbauer said he acted in self-defense, and was cleared of any wrongdoing at the time, though the city manager later concluded he used excessive force. Hoffbauer did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

McGuffey’s discrimination suit filed in federal court is reportedly still pending.

“I’ve never been an insider. I wasn’t just a woman working in law enforcement, I was a gay woman. That made me a target. A threat,” she said in a campaign video. “But overcoming the impossible, well, that’s what I’ve done my entire life.”

McGuffey lives with her wife, Christine Sandusky, and two dogs in downtown Cincinnati.