GLAA to Mayor: Please intervene to stop illegal Fire/EMS grooming policy
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GLAA on Public Safety

GLAA to Mayor: Please intervene to stop illegal Fire/EMS grooming policy

GAY AND LESBIAN ACTIVISTS ALLIANCE OF WASHINGTON
Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
(202) 667-5139

June 8, 2005


The Honorable Anthony Williams
Mayor of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

Dear Mayor Williams:

We are writing to ask you to overturn the grooming policy now being implemented by the Fire/EMS Department (DCFD).

The policy's blanket prohibition on beards does nothing to promote the safety of District firefighters, as so clearly demonstrated by DCFD's refusal to allow bearded firefighters to demonstrate their ability to form a tight seal on their facial masks. The fact that firefighters who have been safely fighting fires for years, if not decades, are now being arbitrarily pulled from active duty, forcing a pointless shutdown of some units, ought to be reason enough for you to intervene on their behalf.

This issue has been litigated repeatedly over the years, and DCFD has always lost. The most recent ruling against DCFD was handed down in 2001. That decision, and its associated injunction against imposing the current grooming policy, remains in full effect to this day. DCFD's decision to ignore the court's injunction constitutes contempt of court, a blow against the basic rule of law itself.

We understand that safety comes first, but it must be real safety and not mere rhetoric about safety -- that is, objective safety standards and tests must be used. There can be no good-faith reason for DCFD to prohibit bearded firefighters from taking the mask fit test. The likely reason, a bad-faith one, readily presents itself: If the bearded firefighters are able to demonstrate a successful seal on their masks, then the DCFD grooming policy would have no leg to stand on. In fact, bearded firefighters, who have a personal stake in maintaining on-the-job safety, claim to have been using the masks successfully for years.

If safety concerns are really the reason for the policy against beards, you can resolve the matter by simply ordering Chief Thompson to allow the bearded firefighters to take the mask fit test. If, on the other hand, the talk of safety in this case is merely a cover for discriminating based on personal appearance, you should order Chief Thompson to stop breaking the law, and to revoke the current grooming policy.

The gay and lesbian community must take a keen interest whenever the spirit and letter of civil rights laws are flouted, especially when our own government is the offender. DCFD's current grooming policy is not just a violation of the religious freedom of those firefighters who believe they are called to wear beards. It is also in flagrant violation of the D.C. Human Rights Law, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of "personal appearance." This is the very provision that we rely upon to defend the District's transgendered residents from hate and prejudice. The Department's record in its treatment of our transgendered residents has been a disgrace for too long, and we see DCFD's grooming policy as yet another example of its "above-the-law" contempt for the people it is supposed to serve.

For too long, the District's elected and appointed officials have mindlessly deferred to the paramilitary obsessions of DCFD's leadership. Such deference has cost the city far too much, measured both by the monetary resources wasted in defending DCFD in court and by the sacrifice of public confidence.

Mr. Mayor, we ask that you and Attorney General Spagnoletti stop defending the indefensible.

Please order DCFD to devise a new grooming policy, return all firefighters suspended or reassigned under the present policy to active duty, reopen the closed firefighting units, and promptly settle any and all outstanding suits and claims left over from the current policy.

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to your prompt reply.


Sincerely,

Richard J. Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs


Cc: Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Edward Reiskin
Fire Chief Adrian Thompson
Office of Human Rights Director Kenneth Saunders
Councilmember Phil Mendelson
ACLU/NCA Legal Director Art Spitzer
D.C. Firefighters Association President Lt. Ray Sneed


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