GLAA Submits Testimony on Fire/EMS for Oversight Hearing
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GLAA Submits Testimony on Fire/EMS for Oversight Hearing

February 22, 2000

The Honorable Harold Brazil
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
Council of the District of Columbia
441 4th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001

Dear Chairman Brazil:

I am submitting this statement for the record of your February 22 oversight and performance hearing for the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services. The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC (GLAA) is the oldest continuously active gay and lesbian rights organization in the country. We will be celebrating our 29th Anniversary on April 27th with a reception at the Doyle Washington Hotel, for which all of the Councilmembers will be getting invitations shortly.

We appreciate this opportunity to testify in these oversight hearings for the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Service. The gay and lesbian community has fought for years for our full civil rights and civil liberties. One of the agencies of the D.C. government that has been an area of concern over the past several years is the D.C. Fire Department.

There have been several incidents over the past few years of racial discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination by members of the Fire Department against the citizenry of the District of Columbia. Several of these incidents have lead to litigation against the District for racial discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, refusal of treatment, medical malpractice, and civil right violations. Most notable among these lawsuits is the $2.9 million judgment against the District in the Tyra Hunter case.

The District cannot financially afford multi-million dollar judgments, and our citizens must not have to endure being treated with disrespect and contempt by agents of our own government. The entire D.C. Fire Department is not racist, homophobic, or criminally negligent. However, if one person is allowed to lie on the street dying, while the people who are hired to save that person stand around laughing and making vulgar remarks, then it reflects poorly on the Fire Department as a whole. The city, being the ultimate employer of all city personnel, must bear the liability for such events - especially, as in the Tyra Hunter case, where the Corporation Counsel submitted homophobic, anti-Human Rights Act, and Bible-quoting briefs in defense of such action. This action, in the Tyra Hunter case, was perpetrated by a firefighter named Adrian Williams. Mr. Williams said, "This bitch ain't no girl, it's a nigger," and withheld lifesaving treatment from the injured Tyra Hunter, a transgender citizen of the District. Mr. Williams was never disciplines by the Fire Department or by the city yet, he was promoted on December 19, 1999 by the Fire Department to the rank of Sergeant.

Several things must change within the D.C. Fire Department. First of all, all of these racist, homophobic, and criminally negligent employees must be disciplined. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. This city is too diverse to allow this type of bigotry to be sanctioned under the guise of city employment. To do so will tear this city apart. Bigotry is being practiced by these employees and tolerated by their superiors. The city's denial of the facts in this case, which were proven in civil court, the Fire Department's refusal to discipline Mr. Williams, followed by his ultimate promotion, are marks against the District.

The Acting Chief of the Fire Department, Tom Tippett, has talked with GLAA on several occasions and has ensured us that such behavior will not be tolerated under his watch. Chief Tippett is committed to continue diversity training for all of the firefighters and EMS personnel. Chief Tippett has also agreed to allow GLAA's input on this training to ensure that it meets the needs of this very diverse city with regards to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities. Such strong leadership is something that the Fire Department has been lacking in the last several years. We hope that Chief Tippett, or whomever the mayor ultimately hires as the full-time Chief, will continue this strong showing of leadership. In fact, we demand it. And we, like all residents of the District, deserve it.

On behalf of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, I urge this committee to support the Fire Chief in his discipline of anyone who demonstrates racism, homophobia, or in any other way violates the Human Rights Act while on the job. We also urge you to demand strong leadership from whomever becomes the permanent Chief in leading the Fire Department into the 21st Century and away from error of its past. For the sake of all our citizens' lives and safety and for continued prosperity of the District, we urge the committee to ensure that the Fire Department is thoroughly reformed.

Sincerely,

Bob Summersgill
President
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance

CC: Councilmember Sharon Ambrose
Councilmember Kevin Chavous
Councilmember Jack Evans
Councilmember Vincent Orange
Mayor Anthony Williams
Acting Chief Thomas Tippett


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