GLAA endorses Rubin for Fire/EMS Chief
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PR 17-0209

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GLAA on Public Safety

GLAA endorses Rubin for Fire/EMS Chief

Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
(202) 667-5139

Testimony on PR 17-0209, the Director of the Fire and Medical Services Department
Dennis Rubin Confirmation Resolution of 2007

Delivered to the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chairman Phil Mendelson
Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

Dear Chairman Mendelson:

Please accept this letter as testimony on PR 17-0209, the Director of the Fire and Medical Services Department Dennis Rubin Confirmation Resolution of 2007 from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC (GLAA). We regret not being able to testify in person on April 26.

We are pleased to support the confirmation of Dennis Rubin as Chief of the Fire and Medical Services Department (Fire/EMS). In contrast to the cavalier way in which Mayor Fenty named a new police chief, Mayor Fenty conducted a nationwide search for a new Fire/EMS Chief, and I served on the interview panels which evaluated the candidates, representing GLAA. Mr. Rubin impressed me with his understanding of the issues facing the Districtís gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) residents, and was comprehensive and forthright in his answers to the questions posed. We feel that this speaks well for the process utilized in this instance by the mayor, and we hope that he will continue to use it as a matter of course in filling any such significant vacancies.

It is particularly important not to have a cavalier selection process for the Fire and Medical Services Department due to the Departmentís long history of transphobia, which dates back at least to the Departmentís grotesque mishandling of the Tyra Hunter case in August 1995 and for many years thereafter, and which was aggravated and reaffirmed in the Departmentís incredible mistreatment of Kenda Kirby just within the last few years.

The critical need for intensive training of Fire/EMS staff has been brutally emphasized by the public record of the Office of Human Rightsí (OHR) investigation of Kenda Kirbyís complaint against the Department. OHR ruled against Ms. Kirby, stating it found that the Departmentís treatment of her did not constitute employment discrimination, a finding that Ms. Kirby has appealed in court. But whether or not the Department technically violated Ms. Kirbyís rights under the D.C. Human Rights Act, the record shows that the Department violated the interests of the entire GLBT community by treating her with contempt and hostility and by frustrating her efforts to develop a training program that would confront the Departmentís ingrained homophobia and transphobia.

Former Chief Thompson, while insisting that everything was fine, showed no disposition to stand up to the bigots under his command. For example, he did not punish those responsible for the web-posting incident documented in Ms. Kirbyís complaint where derogatory comments were directed against her, even though their authors were known and the postings were made using government equipment. Neither did the Department block the offensive web site. We believe that Mr. Rubin is committed to leading from the top, to affirm that such noxious prejudice will not be tolerated.

Last year we asked the D.C. Council Judiciary Committee to insert specific language into the FY 2007 budget ordering Fire/EMS to develop and implement a training program specifically aimed at teaching all Fire/EMS staffers how to deal with members of the Districtís GLBT community, whether as residents, visitors or employees. Extra funds should be earmarked for this purpose, and the Judiciary committee should employ the most vigilant oversight procedures to ensure that this time, nobody is allowed to frustrate a program that should have been instituted a long time ago.

An additional concern we have had is the Departmentís illegal grooming policy, by which it continues to flout the First Amendment and the D.C. Human Rights Act and to demonstrate contempt for the Districtís diverse workforce. ACLU of the National Capital Area recently won a court challenge to that policy, which requires Muslim and Rastafarian firefighters to violate their religious beliefs by shaving and cutting their hair. The Department has refused even to allow bearded firefighters to take fit tests to prove that their beards do not prevent a good facemask fit. On March 16, 2006, the Department appealed the court ruling against the grooming policy. We hope that under Mr. Rubin the Department will stop defending the indefensible and revise its policy to reflect proven safety standards rather than using safety concerns as a cover for discrimination based on personal appearance.

It is long past time for Fire/EMS to step up and demonstrate their commitment to serving all of us. They must fully implement the Tyra Hunter Human Diversity Training series and they must adhere to the laws. Without supervisory follow-through and consequences for violation of the Fire/EMS diversity policy, the training will be little more than window dressing. Moreover, Fire/EMS must resolve pending litigation in a manner that dignifies those wronged and builds community trust. Mr. Rubin has shown during his career the ability to build such trust. We look forward to working with him.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about this testimony.

Thank you very much.


Barrett L. Brick, President

cc: The Honorable Mary Cheh
The Honorable Jack Evans

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