The following is an article I recently wrote for Fire 20/20, an organization which promotes diversity in the fire service.
A Fire Station Ally
by Brett Dunckel
“Straight but not narrow.” was a quote I once read on a protest sign at a rally against the National Organization for Marriage. NOM had set out that summer on a bus tour stopping in various states to hold rallies in support of “traditional marriage,” marriage between one man and one woman. Their only stop in Florida, where I live, was in the Orlando area. Once I heard they’d be protesting a mere three hour drive from me, I decided I would attend my first ever counter protest. Prior to this event I was kind of an arm chair proponent of gay rights.
Upon arriving at the Church which NOM chose as their protest location, I quickly felt energized by my fellow LGBT supporters who were also there for the counter protest. I was expecting a relatively equal number of protesters from each side, this being NOM’s big bus tour, but I could count NOM’s protesters on one hand. The pro-LGBT side however, numbered well over a hundred. As I looked around I could not help but notice what a diverse group of people there were on the LGBT equality side. People fitting all of the LGBT labels as well as scores of “straight allies,” brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, co-workers, and friends, all fighting for equality and fairness.
Getting involved in a highly publicized protest may not be for everybody. However, there are a lot of things you can do within your own fire station to help your LGBT firefighters. Parents, Familes and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has a guide to being a straight ally which provides five steps for being an ally. This is a good guide for anyone interested in helping their LGBT friends and family. Below, I have simplified the list to help you (serve as a successful) ally within your own fire department.
1. Get Educated - Information is power.
Learn about the issues facing the LGBT community both locally and nationally. The more you know about how these issues effect the LGBT community the better prepared you will be to discuss them with fellow crew members. Besides knowing marriage equality is the right thing, know how it will positively affect lesbian and gay families. From medical decision making powers to health insurance taxation, equality, to pension survivorship; these are all issues which greatly effect lesbian and gay relationships, but few people in straight relationships give a second thought to.
2. Speak Up – Silence is deafening.
“Did you hear? The new probie is a faggot.” If you cringed a little just reading that statement, imagine how awful an LGBT person would feel hearing it in their own fire station. Don’t allow such hatred to go unchallenged. Be a leader and call out such homophobia. People will look up to you for having the courage to speak out when they silently know the statement is wrong. Use the opportunity to show how discrimination of any kind should not be tolerated in the fire service.
3. Be Honest – If you don’t know, ask.
If you happen to be straight and do not have many LGBT friends or family, there may be a lot of things you don’t know about LGBT people. A lot of what we learn comes from asking questions. We as LGBT people know this very well, and are always more than happy to answer people’s questions about us and our community. When I came out in my department, one of the first things I did was to let everyone I worked with know that they could ask me any well intentioned question. Once they realized I meant what I said, I received all sorts of questions which I gladly answered. They quickly learned I really wasn’t much different than they were.
4. Support Equality – Everyone is created equal.
You don’t need to hold a protest sign to support equality. There are many small things you can do to be an ally. Support and vote for political candidates who are pro-LGBT. The Officials we elect have a tremendous amount of power to either improve life for the LGBT community or further marginalize us. Be a role model of equality for your family, friends, and co-workers to follow. Inspire them to join you in your support. Identify an organization within the LGBT community to provide support to, either financially or through volunteering.
5. Come Out – Don’t hide in the shadows.
You don’t need to yell your support at line up, but don’t hide it either. Let it be known to your crew that you support equal rights for LGBT individuals. Be proud to be a straight ally. Use a news story to start a conversation on LGBT equality and share your views. The voice of a straight ally can sometimes be much more powerful than those of a LGBT person, especially within the fire service. Being an open ally will make it easier for others to do the same. Once you come out you’ll quickly discover you are not alone.