Department also agrees to increase diversity training on gay, lesbian issues
In response to the concerns of gay advocates, Dallas Fire-Rescue officials have designated an LGBT liaison for the department and agreed to significantly expand diversity training.
Officials said LGBT diversity training for Fire-Rescue recruits will go from 11â„2 hours to four hours beginning this spring. They also said they plan to phase in training for the department’s 1,700 existing employees.
The changes will bring Fire-Rescue in line with the Police Department, according to First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans, who is over police and fire. Evans said the police department has had an LGBT liaison and conducted the longer training sessions for at least 15 years.
"I would argue that the fire department has some catching up to do," Evans said.
Patti Fink, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said DGLA representatives have been trying to address the discrepancy between police and fire for some time. But their efforts have been hampered, Fink said, by lower turnover in Fire-Rescue, which limits the number of recruiting classes, as well as a conservative culture and unreceptive past chiefs.
DGLA included a question about the issue on endorsement surveys for the 2007 city council elections. And even though he didn’t receive the group’s backing, District 3 City Councilman Dave Neumann said he didn’t forget the question upon being elected.
Neumann said after attending a recent graduation for Fire-Rescue recruits, he approached current Chief Eddie Burns and asked whether he’d be open to the changes. When Burns said yes, Neumann contacted Fink and set up a meeting with Burns and Evans.
"My role here quite honestly was to connect the leadership of our fire department and the leadership of the LGBT community and say, ‘This makes good public policy,’" Neumann said.
Fink credited Neumann, who represents a heavily gay district, with being "incredibly helpful" and "very persistent" in facilitating the changes.
Neumann said his argument was strengthened by the results of an independent efficiency study that was completed last year. Although it didn’t specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity, the study identified problems in the department related to racism and sexism.
Evans said it’s safe to assume that if more training is needed in those areas, it’s also needed on LGBT issues.
"It was serious enough that I have reason to be concerned," Evans said of the study results. "Now that we know about it, we need to do something about it."
Sherry Durant, the employee assigned to implement Fire Rescue’s response to the study, will also serve as LGBT liaison.
Unlke officer Laura Martin, the police department’s LGBT liaison, Durant is not gay. However, Fink said she’s hoping as more Fire-Rescue employees come out, the department will designate a gay employee as LGBT liaison.
Both Durant, who’s worked in human resources at the department for the last five years, and Evans said they aren’t aware of any openly gay Fire-Rescue employees.
Durant noted that Fire-Rescue presents some unique challenges when it comes to diversity, in part because employees essentially live together during 24-hour shifts.
Another issue that’s come up over the years relates to first responders and treatment of patients with HIV/AIDS.
Many of the police department’s LGBT policies were implemented as a result of the widely publicized case of Mica England, a lesbian who successfully sued the city after the department refused to hire her because of her sexual orientation in the early 1990s.
But Durant said Fire-Rescue has never been the subject of such a controversy.
"We’re very grateful that we have not, and that’s why we’re trying to take a proactive approach,’ Durant said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 7, 2008
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