For LGBT+ History Month, Fire Brigades Union LGBT Secretary Pat Carberry looks back on the fight for acceptance in the fire and rescue service.
I was first inspired to get involved in the FBU LGBT Section as a result of a few brave LGBT+ firefighters who came out in their workplaces in the 1990s. At that time, it was difficult to be comfortably open about being gay and there was a very real hostility towards the LGBT+ community from people within the service.
I realised that much of the problem was a lack of understanding about what it is to be LGBT+. I decided that I would come out – to prove that it is possible to be gay in the fire service and that it is possible to have a happy career where colleagues accept your difference.
The public have high regard for firefighters and the work they do for the communities they serve. I believed that the public and members of the LGBT+ community needed to know that the fire and rescue service has serving LGBT+ firefighters, and that if they want to be part of the service, their LGBT+ identity should not be a barrier. These changes were not going to happen overnight and it’s been a long-term commitment.
Some fire and rescue services were initially reluctant to support employees attending Pride events, and some even gave instruction that they should not wear any uniform because it would identify them as members of the fire service. Small groups of members defied such bans and attended wearing their uniform. Now hundreds of firefighters attend Pride events across the UK, along with non-LGBT+ firefighters in support of the LGBT+ community. Fire services support firefighters at Pride by sending fire engines and floats suitably liveried with rainbow flags to take part in the parades.
There still remains a great deal of work to be done, and there is still reluctance for gay men to be out in the service. The equality agenda slipped off the radar as a consequence of changes in Government and the commitment to having an inclusive fire and rescue service. The FBU LGBT Committee continue to push for improvement to ensure that LGBT+ issues are addressed and are at the heart of all equality activities.