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This past February, the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services hired Kendra Kirby, a former Oklahoma firefighter and emergency medical technician, to be a trainer and coordinator for its diversity-awareness program. The program, the Tyra Hunter Human Diversity Training Series, takes its name from a transgender car-crash victim who died in 1995 after District rescue workers, finding male genitalia on an apparently female patient, interrupted her treatment. The naming was part of a settlement between the department and Hunter’s mother.
But according to Kirby, a longtime gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender activist, the department still needs to work on its tolerance. In September, the diversity trainer filed a complaint with the District’s Office of Human Rights, alleging that she has faced extensive workplace discrimination and “a hostile work environment based on her sex, sexual orientation, and physical appearance, which is androgynous,” according to her attorney, Mindy A. Daniels.
In the affidavit, Kirby says that a deputy fire chief told her that, prior to her beginning her job, a group of fire chiefs had gotten together to discuss whether she would be allowed to use the men’s or women’s restroom. She also discusses a collection of derogatory comments that were printed out from an unofficial fire and rescue Web site called TheWatchDesk.com and anonymously placed in her mailbox.
In one of the comments, almost all of which were posted under pseudonyms, someone joked that Kirby had attained her status as a Battalion Fire Chief because she had circled “Both, Unknown, [or] in the process of changing” in the “Sex” slot on her employment application. Another poster compared Kirby to the Saturday Night Live character Pat, whose gender is meant to be a mystery. In the affidavit, Kirby says her supervisor told her that he recognized one of the anonymous posters as someone who works in Fire and EMS Operations. Daniels says that the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, in an independent investigation, confirmed that at least one of the postings came from within the Fire Department’s domain.
Kirby is now asking for monetary damages, as well as for a commitment to continue the Tyra Hunter training program. Her one-year contract with the department is scheduled to expire in February, and she is unsure whether she will return to her job. A Fire Department spokesperson declines to comment on the specifics of the Kirby case, but says that the department is “more than happy to cooperate with the Office of Human Rights in their investigation.” CP