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Firefighters oppose ‘FEMS’ logo on shirts and jackets

D.C. fire chief postpones order for design change

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Almost no one has talked about it in public, including the news media and the union representing D.C. firefighters.

But in response to inquiries from the Washington Blade, D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe acknowledged that his decision to postpone an order that firefighters place the initials “FEMS” on the shirts and jackets they wear while on duty was based, in part, on that acronym’s perception as a possible derogatory reference to gay men.

FEMS stands for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, the name the city adopted more than a decade ago to replace the name D.C. Fire Department. Officials said the name change was aimed at better reflecting the important role members of the EMS, or Emergency Medical Services unit, play within a department better known for putting out fires.

Openly gay D.C. firefighter Tim Bennett said gay and straight firefighters know that the term “fem” has long been used as a derogatory reference to effeminate men or gays. He said he and some of his fellow firefighters expect the FEMS logo prominently displayed on the back of their jackets and shirts will subject them to ridicule.

“I was speaking to another member,” Bennett told the Blade. “I’m not sure if he knows I’m gay or not, but he was just relating a story. He didn’t mean any offense by it, but he was saying how his grandmother heard about this and her quote was, ‘FEMS? What’s that sound like, a bunch of faggots?’”

“And I think that’s the kind of terms and judgments it will elicit,” said Bennett. “In the perfect world, that wouldn’t be the case, but unfortunately we’re not in a perfect world yet.”

Although the name change has long since been in effect, department officials allowed firefighters and other department personnel to continue to use the longstanding logo “DCFD” on their shirts and jackets.

That policy changed earlier this year when Ellerbe issued an order requiring firefighters to replace all garments bearing the DCFD logo with the department’s officially designated logo or insignia “FEMS.”

Ellerbe told the Blade on Tuesday that he placed his order on hold for 120 days in response to concern over the FEMS logo. He said most of the concern was about the desire to retain the tradition-bound “DCFD” logo. The department and the firefighters’ union are in discussions over a possible compromise logo that will continue to reflect the important role that the EMS plays in the department.

“We are preparing a proposal to address the issues of sensitivity in our community,” he said, in referring to concerns similar to those expressed by Bennett.

“I’m from Washington, D.C. and I have members of my family who walk in all types of communities in this city and the metropolitan area, which heightened my awareness and my opinion and my sensitivity to how people are treated,” Ellerbe said.

“I’m proud to be a D.C. fireman,” said Bennett, who noted that he has been out as gay during most of his 18 years at the department. He said his fellow firefighters have treated him with respect and he has never encountered discriminatory treatment or negative comments, even when he brings his partner to social events among firefighters.

“But I can say the whole FEMS thing is a pretty poor choice of an acronym,” he said. “I just think it invites distasteful comments, even if unintentional.”

Bennett said that while he and many of his firefighter colleagues, both gay and straight, are troubled over the FEMS logo, they join the firefighters’ union president, Ed Smith, in citing two other reasons why the FEMS logo is a mistake.

The most frequently cited reason, Smith has points out, is that the logo DCFD has a long and esteemed tradition in the city and has become a well-known “brand” for the department. The other reason cited by Smith and others in favor of retaining the DCFD logo is that FEMS is often confused with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which coordinates the federal government’s disaster relief programs.

“The union’s concern is what’s recognized, and we believe that FEMS would lead to confusion about who we really are,” Smith said.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) agrees with the union’s position and introduced a bill last month called the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Logo Clarification Act of 2011.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the official logo of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department shall remain DCFD,” the bill states.

As of this week, Evans’ bill had no co-sponsors. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who chairs the committee with jurisdiction over the bill, has said he opposes the measure and had no plans for holding a hearing on the bill.

Smith said his union, Local 36 of the International Association of Firefighters, has been aware of the possible gay-related connotation of the FEMS logo and the concerns firefighters have about it. He said he has been reluctant to discuss that concern in public because it could be offensive to the LGBT community.

“I’ve encouraged those members with concerns about this to discuss it with representatives of their community,” Smith said.

LGBT activists had mixed views on the issue when contacted about it this week.

“FEMS has nothing to do with gay people,” said gay activist Bob Summersgill, who added that he doesn’t consider the term “fem” a negative reference to gay people “unless you consider women to be inferior. I do not.”

Gay activist Peter Rosenstein said there were “many reasons to debate the use of the acronym FEMS for the Fire Department but I don’t think anyone would see it as applicable to a member of the department,” gay or straight.

“The last thing anyone thinks of when they think of a firefighter is a person that is effeminate,” Rosenstein said.

Lesbian activist Barbara Helmick said the firefighters should be allowed to pick the acronym they like best.

“While there may be in our community some history of how the word fem is used, it’s really irrelevant,” she said. “I think this is an issue of what’s best for the firefighters and the public, and I have to side with the union on this one.”

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. DC Fireman

    May 27, 2011 at 11:35 am

    When I place my gear on the apparatus, I care not whom my fellow firemen chose to be with. That has nothing to do with whether or not they can put down a fire, rescue a person, or perform medical duties. Just as preference has nothing to do with the Fire Department, neither does FEMS. DCFD is what we are. We perform a multitude of services that are not Fire or Medically related, yet there is no acronym for them included in our logo. Were we to get specific and want to truly highlight all aspects of our job ( as all are equally important) then the back of our jackets and shirts would look like the “Classifieds”section of the newspaper. The point is this, we started as a Fire Department. We started performing more services over time, put our core remained, and everyone got to know whom to call if your in distress no matter the cause or situation. In times of peril and need one calls the “Fire Department” and they know we will resolve their fire, car accident, breathing troubles, water leaks, electrical hazards, natural gas leaks, Haz Mat spills, High angle rescues, collapse rescue, and so on ( you get my drift?) Our Country is the United States and has been since the founding. Over the years many changes of services and composition have occurred but it is still called the United States. Everyone knows this name, what it stands for, and what it does. “DCFD” is no different.

    • chiefbobr

      January 5, 2012 at 8:11 am

      We haven’t used the term ‘fireman’ in this profession since the early 1970’s genius, so you really ought to know what you’re talking about before you speak. The reason: firemen shovel coal and firefighters fight fires: simple as that.

  2. Andrew

    September 27, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Maybe so fireman, but the official DC government webpage says it’s FEMS: http://fems.dc.gov/DC/FEMS/

  3. mintukumar

    October 5, 2011 at 5:28 am

    Hello there, simply turned into aware of your blog thru Google, and found that it is
    really informative. I?m gonna watch out for brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future. A lot of other folks will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

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LULAC Lambda announces 2021 scholarship awards

Castro, Javier Rodriguez win $1,000 honors

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Brian Castro and Victor Javier Rodriguez are this year’s LULAC award winners.

The D.C.-based LGBTQ Latinx organization LULAC Lambda has announced it has selected two D.C. residents bound for graduate studies in foreign affairs and higher education to receive its 2021 annual scholarship award.

“For a fourth year in a row, LULAC Lambda will provide scholarships to outstanding scholars who come from our LGBTQ+ Latinx community,” said Erik Rodriquez, the LULAC Lambda president, in a statement released by the group. “Our scholarship program will help these scholars achieve their academic goals and reduce their student debt,” Rodriquez said.

The statement says one of the two scholarship awards, for $1,000, will go to Brian Castro, who will begin studies for a master’s degree in the fall of 2021 at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

“The generous scholarship provided by LULAC Lambda will complement my studies by going directly into my tuition costs,” Castro said in the statement. “Though I have been a resident of Washington, D.C., working full-time at a leading public health consulting firm, I am grateful to have received the support from an organization that is also committed to social justice,” he said.

The other scholarship, for $1,300, will go to Victor Javier Rodriguez for his doctoral work in education at Florida State University. The LULAC Lambda statement says Javier Rodriquez’s academic interest lies in “exploring the relationship between school communities and districts’ implementation of anti-racist practice and student success.”

In his own words, Javier Rodriquez said, “A long-term career goal of mine is to affect change at the federal level through the United States Department of Education, in which I would work to address our nation’s education crisis by advocating for equitable policies and practices that improve the outcome for all our students, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

LULAC Lambda says it was founded in October 2014 “to mobilize and strengthen the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Washington, D.C. through community and civic engagement.” It is one of 1,000 chapters across the country affiliated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s largest and oldest Latinx volunteer-based civil rights organization, the group’s statement says.

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Missing gay man found ‘alive and well’

Police say Richard ‘Rick’ Woods found in good health

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Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man, was found alive and well.

D.C. police announced on Friday that Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man who police said was reported missing and last seen on July 14, has been located. But the announcement doesn’t provide information on where he was found or why he went missing.

Friends who know Woods say he operated for many years an antique wood furniture restoration business in various locations in D.C. The most recent location of his business, friends said, was in Georgetown a short distance from where police said he was last seen on the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.

“MPD does not publicly disclose the circumstances surrounding a missing person and how they are found, however we do release their flyer as well as a notification when they are located,” said D.C. police spokesperson Brianna Burch. “Mr. Woods was found in good health,” Burch told the Blade.

Police sought help from the public in their initial announcement that Woods was missing. The announcement said he was reported missing to police on Friday, July 23.

Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and LGBTQ rights advocate John Fanning, who said he has been friends with Woods for many years, said he was delighted to hear Woods was found in good condition.

“Rick is known by many in our community,” Fanning told the Blade at the time Woods was reported missing. Fanning said he and others who know Woods stand ready to provide support for him should he be in need of such support.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Woods for comment.

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Some D.C. gay bars to require proof of COVID vaccination

Action prompted by mayor’s order reinstating masks indoors

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Adams Morgan’s A League of Her Own is among the area queer bars requiring proof of vaccination for entry.

At least six D.C. gay bars announced last week on social media that they will require patrons to show proof that they have been vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for being admitted to the bars.

They include the Logan Circle area gay bars Number Nine and Trade, which are operated by the same co-owners; the Adams Morgan gay sports bars Pitchers and A League of Her Own, which are also operated by the same owner and share the same building; the 17th Street, N.W. gay bar JR.’s; and the U Street, N.W. gay bar The Dirty Goose.

The six bars, which also offer dining service, announced their proof of vaccination requirement shortly after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday, July 29, issued a new order reinstating the city’s requirement that facial masks be worn inside all businesses and other public establishments.

The mayor’s order applies to all vaccinated and unvaccinated people over the age of two. It took effect at 5 a.m. Saturday, July 31.

At a July 29 news conference, Bowser pointed to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued two days earlier recommending that fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in places where transmission of the coronavirus is considered “substantial” or “high.”

The mayor said that, at the advice of her public health experts, she decided to issue the new order to help curtail the rising number of COVID cases in D.C. over the past month or more due to the rapid spread of the virus’s Delta variant, which is surging throughout the nation. Like other parts of the country, Bowser and D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbit said people who are unvaccinated in D.C. make up nearly all of the newly infected cases.

“I know D.C. residents have been very closely following the public health guidelines, and they will embrace this,” Bowser said in referring to the new mask requirement.

The four-page order released by the mayor’s office, similar to the city’s earlier mask requirements, allows indoor patrons of restaurants and bars to remove their masks while “actively” eating or drinking.

But some representatives of restaurants and bars have pointed out that other jurisdictions, including Maryland and Virginia, have followed the CDC’s initial policy of making mask wearing a recommendation rather than a requirement.

“Mayor Bowser’s announcement that nightlife hospitality patrons must wear a mask indoors when not ‘actively eating or drinking’ renders the reinstated mandate essentially unenforceable and results in the rule being reduced to a largely theatrical requirement,” said Mark Lee, director of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a local trade association representing bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and other nightlife related businesses.

“The greatest disappointment for many venue operators and staff, however, is that the mayor’s decision does not allow an option for establishments to admit only fully vaccinated patrons and be exempt from the mandate, as a number of other jurisdictions across the country have done,” Lee said.

John Guggenmos, co-owner of the bars Trade and Number Nine, told the Washington Blade he and his co-owners adopted the proof of vaccination policy as an added means of protecting the safety of both patrons and employees of the two bars.

“We’re hopeful that this will be in effect for just a few weeks or a month or two,” Guggenmos said. “Our patrons have always been very supportive,” he said in referring to the city’s public health directives last year and early this year in which masks were required up until May of this year.

Guggenmos said Trade and Number Nine would allow an alternative to the vaccination requirement if patrons provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within the previous three days of their admission to the bars.

In its social media postings, Pitchers and A League of Her Own said their proof of vaccination requirement was based on the concern for the health of their patrons and staff.

“We will require proof of a COVID vaccination until further notice at Pitchers/ALOHO and masks per the mayor,” a Facebook posting says. “We take guidelines and the health of our patrons and staff very seriously. We will accept a picture or hard copy of your COVID vaccination card,” it says. “No exceptions, no arguing, no talking to the manager.”

Tammy Truong, owner of the gay bar Uproar Lounge at 639 Florida Ave., N.W., told the Blade the bar has no immediate plans to require proof of vaccination as a requirement for admission, but Uproar will fully comply with the mayor’s order requiring indoor masks.

Justin Parker, co-owner of the nearby gay bar The Dirty Goose at 913 U St., N.W., told the Blade he and his staff decided on July 30 to also put in place a requirement that patrons show either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the past five days. He said a five-day window for the COVID test, which the CDC allows in some cases, was chosen rather than a three-day requirement to accommodate people who may not be able to get tested during weekends.

Owners of other D.C. queer bars couldn’t immediately be reached. But the Blade could not find any announcements by the other bars as of Friday afternoon that they planned to put in place a proof of vaccination requirement.

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