Serving the Whole Community: Including LGBTQ+ Populations in Your Department & Community Outreach

Practical tips for diversity, equity, and inclusion in your community

Source: FEMA Office of Community and Faith Partnerships

June is Pride MonthThe Human Rights Campaign Foundation has reported that an estimated 20 million adults in the U.S. identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). June is recognized nationally as Pride Month, commemorating the struggles and progress of people who identify as LGBTQ+. It provides an opportunity for the fire service to recognize the positive impact LGBTQ+ members have on fire and rescue departments and consider policies that help keep their entire community safe.

While creating an inclusive department for people of all backgrounds, family structures, and beliefs is important for retention and recruitment, there are also ways to make sure you’re serving all residents, including those who are LGBTQ+. If your department doesn’t already have these policies in place or doesn’t have anyone on the roster who is openly LGBTQ+, you may not be sure where or how to start.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships have resources and information to help first responders with mitigation and recovery for all populations. In addition, the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy (NFA) can serve as an example for how volunteer firefighters and emergency services personnel can serve the diverse fabric that makes up our nation, including the LGBTQ+ population.

The NFA has a long-established policy and statement respecting the human dignity of students and staff. More importantly, and equally applicable to the fire service, the statement is not just on paper, it is part of the fabric and ethos of the NFA’s day-to-day activities. Students and staff of all orientations are afforded respect and consideration. “As a previous mentor once told me, at the end of the day, people are people, and just want to be treated like people,” said Lester Rich, NFA deputy superintendent. “While it is a simple concept, it encompasses nearly the entirety of our dignity statement, and it is a benchmark against which inclusion and belonging in the fire service could be measured.”

One of the newer courses at the NFA is titled Fostering Belonging in the Fire and Emergency Services. The course considers the concept of belonging within the fire and emergency services, introducing and examining the underlying concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion as they relate to the stated mission, vision, and values of response agencies to serve and protect everyone without discrimination or bias. The pilot offering of the course was well received, and the final edits and revisions are underway. Look for the course on the NFA web site in late summer 2024.

Another great resource for the volunteer fire service and an excellent example of fostering belonging is the film Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat, a documentary created through a collaboration between John Deere, the National Volunteer Fire Council, Hold Fast Features, and Vignette. The film takes the viewer inside America’s volunteer fire service and shows that everyone who wants to serve has a place.

Here are additional resources for incorporating LGBTQ+ audiences in your department and in community outreach: