[cifnmedia] Lesbian Diversity Trainer Sues D.C. Fire Department

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 21 Dec 2003 08:28:06 -0800 (PST)

Lesbian Diversity Trainer Sues D.C. Fire Department 


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LOU CHIBBARO 
Courtesy of The Washington Blade 

A lesbian hired last February by the D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services 
Department to help run a sensitivity training program that covers gay and 
transgender issues has accused the department of discriminating against her 
based on her sexual orientation, gender and personal appearance. 

Kenda R. Kirby, a training specialist retained by the department on a one-year 
contract, charges in a complaint filed with the city’s Office of Human Rights 
that unidentified firefighters and EMS workers made hostile and insulting 
remarks about her in a series of messages posted in an online chat room for 
firefighters. 

Kirby states in an affidavit released by her attorney that someone anonymously 
placed a printed copy of the chat room exchanges in her office mailbox last 
May, the day after the postings first appeared. She filed her complaint on 
Sept. 8 but did not publicly disclose the complaint until last week. 

Through her attorney, Mindy Daniels, Kirby also released a transcript of the 
postings. 

At least three people state in the posted messages that they were troubled that 
the department assigned Kirby, a civilian, to the rank of a battalion fire 
chief and that she wears a uniform used by male battalion chiefs. 

The writers of the messages apparently were unaware that Kirby served for five 
years as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician in Piedmont, 
Okla., during the 1980s, according to Daniels. Daniels said Kirby was trained 
and certified to perform firefighting and EMS duties during her service in 
Piedmont and received an award for helping to free a man pinned down in a 
ravine under a small tractor. 

“I thought the dress uniform for women was a skirt!!!” stated a person 
using the screen name “Phantom” in one of the postings on the site, 
www.thewatchdesk.com. The same person called Kirby “some no nothing running 
around dressed like a fireman.” 

Another person using the screen name “dccaptain1995” responded by saying 
D.C. Fire Chief Adrian Thompson’s policy on diversity trainers apparently is 
to hire new battalion fire chiefs “that cannot figure out if they are male or 
female.” 

Kathryn Friedman, public information director for the Fire and EMS Department, 
declined to comment on Kirby’s complaint. Friedman said department rules 
prevent officials from discussing pending litigation or administrative action 
such as Kirby’s complaint. 

Kirby also declined comment, saying that upon the advice of Daniels, she would 
let her affidavit serve as her official position on the matter. 

Men’s Restroom Considered? 

Kirby’s affidavit states that the incident involving the chat room postings 
followed a separate incident in which a deputy fire chief informed her that he 
and other high level officials discussed whether they would require Kirby to 
use male bathrooms in the buildings where she would be working. 

“Deputy Chief Michael Smith informed me that prior to my beginning work, the 
other ‘chiefs’ had a discussion about whether I would be allowed to use the 
male or female restrooms, deciding I was not allowed to use the men’s 
room,” Kirby states in the three-page affidavit. 

“This shows [a] desperate need for education as opposed to conversation based 
on biased perceptions,” Kirby states in her affidavit. 

Daniels said at least one of the chat room postings originated from a Fire and 
EMS Department Internet domain site, indicating that one or more of the 
employees used government computers or office facilities to post and receive 
the messages. Daniels said use of government facilities for that purpose 
violates D.C. government rules and makes the District government liable for the 
action. 

The complaint charges that department officials failed to conduct more than a 
superficial probe to discover the identities of the employees posting the chat 
room remarks against Kirby, Daniels said. She said the derogatory messages and 
the department’s lackluster effort to investigate the matter amounts to a 
form of discrimination and the creation of a “hostile workplace.” 

Firefighters have history of insensitivity. 

Kirby’s job duties include helping to design courses to train firefighters 
and emergency medical technicians to better serve minority populations, 
including gays and transgendered people. 

Officials started the training program at the request of gay and transgender 
activists following two widely publicized incidents. 

In 1995, a Fire Department rescue worker stopped administering medical 
treatment to Tyra Hunter, a transgendered woman critically injured in a car 
crash, when he discovered Hunter had male genitals. Witnesses said the rescue 
worker began laughing and taunting Hunter because of her status as a 
transgendered person. 

Hunter died several hours later at D.C. General Hospital. Her mother sued the 
city, charging that the rescue worker’s action, along with faulty care at the 
hospital, contributed to a wrongful death. A jury ruled in favor of the mother 
and ordered the city to pay more than $1.7 million in damages to the Hunter 
family. 

The Hunter death prompted Fire Department officials to promise improved 
training and sensitivity of EMS workers and firefighters. But activists renewed 
their calls for better training in 1996 when a pair of first-responder Fire 
Department rescue workers refused to treat a gay man injured in a gay-bashing 
attack in Dupont Circle. 

The man, Loron Lavoie, suffered head and body injuries resulting in deep cuts 
and extensive bleeding. Instead of treating Lavoie and taking him to a 
hospital, the rescue workers handed Lavoie cloth bandages and told him to put 
them on himself, witnesses said. 

A D.C. Fire Dept. diversity trainer claims that Deputy Chief Michael Smith told 
her that department colleagues had considered requiring her to use the men’s 
restroom. 

Saying they were committed to improving the department’s handling of 
transgendered people, officials named the program the Tyra Hunter Human 
Diversity Training Series. 

Daniels said Kirby’s complaint asserts that Fire Department officials failed 
to seriously investigate the chat room postings to identify the employees 
responsible for posting the hostile remarks about Kirby. 

In the chat room postings, the Fire Department employees appear to be most 
upset with the decision of Chief Thompson to give Kirby the rank of a battalion 
fire chief, allowing her to wear a uniform and brass metals normally given to 
“sworn” firefighters. 

Uniform Choice Debated On Web Site Chatroom 

Daniels said Thompson made the decision to assign Kirby that rank. She said 
Thompson also required Kirby to wear a uniform. Although the uniforms of male 
and female fire officials are similar, the female uniform is distinguished by 
the use of a different type of necktie. 

One Fire Department source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Kirby 
usually wears a necktie for a male uniform, a development that has irritated 
some firefighters. Daniels said department officials, rather than Kirby, chose 
the type of uniform she wears, including the tie. 

“People fail to realize that ours is a profession in which people can, and 
do, die,” said someone posting a message using the screen name Brooks. 
“When we prostitute the integrity of our traditions, we weaken the fraternity 
that, in some cases, means the difference between life and death,” Brooks 
stated. 

“When we allow non-qualified, non-dedicated, non-competent, non-sworn, 
non-firefighting people to wear our uniform, just so we can be one big shiny 
happy family, just so people don’t feel excluded, we weaken the bonds that 
bind the rest of us together,” Brooks said in the posting. 

Not everyone participating in the online conversation agreed. “Out of 
curiosity, why do you care so much what she wears,” someone using the name 
“sbchasin” said. “Does it really matter? What difference does it make 
what she wears?” 

Another participant using the name “jbright” said he or she did not have a 
problem with Kirby wearing a uniform but was upset that she is being allowed to 
wear the brass insignia metals normally used only by sworn and trained 
firefighters. 

“My problem is that letting a civilian employee wear collar brass cheapens 
the time and effort put in by those who competed to be promoted,” said 
“jbright.” 

“And as far as the Tyra Hunter thing,” jbright added, “it changed 
nothing. Just a good opportunity for an ambulance-chasing lawyer to 
grandstand.” 

“I was emotionally harmed by the Web chat postings and from the lack of 
appropriate action from management and the ineptitude of the action they did 
take,” Kirby said in her affidavit. “This action defames my character as 
well as my competency, my dedication and qualifications among my colleagues, 
community supporters, and prospective future employers,” she said. 

 



Sean A. Aaron (CIFN*1)
Central Illinois Fire Network
cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
www.geocities.com/central_illinois_firenet


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