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

  • From: "Paul M. Brown" <wx-tech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 23 Dec 2003 22:07:21 -0600

A lot of people are ignorant of the many facts about gay & lesbian
people.  Without facts people pre-judged it. One thing is certain -
homosexuality is an unchangeable nature; it is not a lifestyle choice.
Always accept people for who they are - not what you expect them to be.

Happy Holidays. 

-----Original Message-----
From: cifnmedia-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:cifnmedia-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Sean & Kimberly
Sent: Sunday, December 21, 2003 10:28 AM
Subject: [cifnmedia] Lesbian Diversity Trainer Sues D.C. Fire Department

Lesbian Diversity Trainer Sues D.C. Fire Department 

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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

"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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