Metro Weekly

Judge Hits D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services Agency

District urged to settle with diversity trainer

More than a decade has passed since the since Tyra Hunter, a transgender D.C. woman, died. But correcting the transphobic and homophobic culture of the D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services Agency (FEMS) — made evident as Hunter lay dying in the street after an auto-pedestrian accident and an FEMS officer withdrew care and instead offered taunts and slurs after discovering her male genitalia — continues today.

In the case of Kenda Kirby, a lesbian hired by the District to implement the Tyra Hunter Human Diversity Training Series at FEMS as part of a prior wrongful-death settlement, versus FEMS, Judge Geoffrey Alprin of the D.C. Superior Court last month found probable cause against senior officers at FEMS, as well as probable cause of retaliation. Alprin’s ruling reverses an earlier decision from the D.C. Office of Human Rights. ”There are a lot of good people in the Fire Department, but if the top brass condones the bad decisions of the bad apples, this decision says that won’t be tolerated — at least not by the courts,” says Mindy Daniels, Kirby’s attorney.

Kirby’s poor treatment at FEMS began with derogatory messages in her work mailbox posted from other D.C. government computers, used during business hours. Kirby reported this to then-FEMS Diversity Management Officer Frederika Smith, then-Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson and General Counsel Theresa Cusick. Kirby’s immediate supervisor, Deputy Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson began an investigation into the incident, but was ordered to stop. Alprin found that Smith and Cusick retaliated against Kirby.

”The sum total of this evidence supports findings of a history and culture of homophobia and sexism in the D.C. FEMS,” Alprin wrote. ”This ethos, which characterized Petitioner’s (Kirby) work environment, created impediments to her responsibilities and cover for her colleagues to belittle her.”

Daniels says the District had 30 days to appeal Alprin’s decision, but did not. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s office did not respond to a request for comment by Metro Weekly deadline.

”The District can step in and try to settle at any time,” says Daniels. ”If the District doesn’t settle, then it will go before the Human Rights Commission. And the Office of Human Rights would, technically, have to represent her and fight for her. But I will probably continue to represent Ms. Kirby.”

Craig Howell of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C. (GLAA), of which Daniels was once president, says the GLAA has been involved in these events since Hunter’s death in 1995, and met with FEMS administrators as recently as last year.

”The culture was as transphobic and homophobic as ever,” Howell says of that meeting. He adds however, that he’s encouraged that GLAA President Barrett Brick was involved on the search committee for Thompson’s replacement. The new chief is Dennis Rubin.

”Now that we have a new fire chief, he’s pledged to root out the homophobia and transphobia,” says Howell. ”And we’re hoping to get the [Tyra Hunter] training program restarted.”

Beyond that, the GLAA has called for the Fenty administration to settle quickly with Kirby. As Brick stated in a May 22 GLAA release: ”We urge Mayor Fenty to order a just and speedy settlement with Kenda Kirby so that the case does not drag on any further. … Emergency responders are paid to serve people from all walks of life in their times of crisis. Our tax dollars should not be used to discriminate.”

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.