LGBT Recruitment Myths
The following is an article I was asked to write for a website called Fire 20/20 which serves to promote diversity in the fire and EMS service.
Active recruitment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, LGBT, individuals in the fire service is virtually unheard of. It is like planning a big steak dinner at your busiest station and actually getting to enjoy it in its entirety without getting a call. Granted, not all departments recruit for the purpose of diversifying their ranks. However, amongst those who do, I have not been able to find one who targets LGBT individuals the way law enforcement does. What may be the reason behind this lack of outreach? Are we as a fire service blind to the potential this group of individuals can bring to our ranks? Are we as LGBT individuals blind to the possibilities of a career spent serving our fellow citizens? Let’s exam and hopefully dispel some of these myths in an effort to be more inclusive of LGBT individuals as possible new recruits.
Fire Service Myths of LGBT Individuals:
LGBT individuals are sissies and not capable of the physical demands of the job.
- Of course as with most of these myths, this one is rooted in stereotypes. Anyone who knows a gay individual knows they are just as physically capable as anyone else. In many cases LGBT individuals are more dedicated to working out and staying healthy then their heterosexual counterparts. In addition, just as anyone else would, these individuals would have to pass physical ability tests in order to be hired.
LGBT individuals would only want to join the fire service to hit on fellow firefighters.
I always kind of laugh when I hear this one. Based upon my experience in the fire service, not all of us are attractive people, nor can every firefighter be in a calendar, far from it. Everyone has a certain look or type of person they are attracted to regardless of the sexuality of that attraction. In either case, when you are in a work environment you have certain boundaries which you do not cross regardless of sexuality. If someone feels a coworker has crossed a line then they need to take the issue to their supervisors and possibly file a sexual harassment complaint if it is justified.
LGBT individuals would spy on me in the showers and the bunkroom.
This myth is similar to the previous one with the exception being a heterosexual individual is never placed in the position of being able to shower with their counterpart. When placed in this situation, if a heterosexual firefighter is concerned they should opt to shower before or after the LGBT individual has showered. If there is concern the LGBT individual may enter the shower prior to their heterosexual coworker finishing, the heterosexual coworker should have a polite conversation prior to being placed in that situation. I, as a gay firefighter, would not find that request offensive as long as it is made in a respectable manor. As with the previous myth, we are all held under the same sexual harassment guidelines regardless of our sexuality.
LGBT individuals would want to feminize the fire service.
Last time I checked, I am a male who just so happens to be attracted to other males. This small variation does not impact my gender expression or my mannerisms. I know many male heterosexual individuals who are more feminine then many of my gay friends. I also know many female heterosexuals who are more masculine then my lesbian friends. People’s mannerisms are not a product of their sexuality. In my experience, the environment in which a person is raised has far more impact on their mannerisms then does their sexuality. These variations are what make us individuals and should be embraced not vilified.
LGBT Myths of the Fire Service:
The fire service is homophobic.
- I am not going to claim the fire service as a whole is not homophobic, that would be a lie. I have heard plenty of stories of homophobia from within our ranks. However, I know the fire service is also full of caring, compassionate individuals who would never dream of being hateful towards anyone. The more of us LGBT individuals in the fire service who come out and become the positive examples of our community, the better it becomes for everyone. I was the first person in my department’s history to come out as an LGBT individual. I feared the worst yet was very pleasantly surprised by the reactions of my fellow firefighters. Through coming out, I have now been able to dispel stereotypes, remove the fear of the unknown, and put a name and face to our community. Those are the major steps which need to occur to combat homophobia.
The fire service is full of macho men.
The fire service is a very unique field for a number of reasons. You have to be a strong, level headed person in some of the most stressful situations imaginable. This takes a certain type of person, and gay or straight, not everyone is cut out for the job. However, we do not operate at that level 100% of the time. It is during the downtimes between calls when we get to know the real people we work with. Our ‘family’ is as diverse as any. From outdoorsmen to homebodies, family people to lifelong bachelors, pickup trucks to sports cars, these are the variations which make our field so great.
The fire service has no protections for LGBT individuals.
Unfortunately, in large part this myth is true. There is no Federal protection of LGBT individuals in employment. In most States it is perfectly legal to fire someone just because they are LGBT. That is a frightening thought for someone considering investing so much into a career. That uncertainty alone is enough to drive most LGBT individuals away from a career in the fire service. However, the good news is not all departments lack employment protections for LGBT individuals. My current department not only protects LGBT persons, but offers domestic partner benefits. My advice would be to research departments which offer such protections. Generally these departments are going to be larger size and located in or near major cities. In my experience, if you excel at your job and don’t provide justification for termination, then generally you will have a successful career.
The fire service is full of tradition. A great deal of this tradition is good and helps make the fire service unique from all other careers. However, we still hold onto some traditions which are detrimental, such as discrimination. We have come a long way in adding diversity to our ranks, but we still have much work to do. Expanding our recruitment efforts to the LGBT community is the next step we need to take to combat this discrimination. The LGBT community is full of very dedicated, talented individuals who would greatly enhance the fire service. Be a leader and speak out within your department to include these individuals in recruitment efforts. Together we can make an effort to maintain the best of our traditions while shedding those that tarnish an otherwise honorable career.