A Cleckheaton firefighter has spoken publicly about his experiences of joining the service as an openly gay man.
Anthony Devine, 26, has been appointed as a diversity champion by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue as they mark LGBT History Month in partnership with gay rights organisation Stonewall.
As part of the campaign to promote equality among their staff, Anthony, who is now a watch manager at Leeds fire station, has shared the story of his life in the fire service since joining at the age of 18 back in 2008.
Anthony’s family initially advised him to keep his sexuality quiet within the male-dominated and ‘macho’ environment he was about to enter. Yet he decided to be open with colleagues and found he was instantly accepted by them.
“Like many, I am proud to be a firefighter. I am also proud to be a son, a brother and a friend. I’m proud to be British. There are many ways I would describe myself. I remember my family warning me that the fire service was a really masculine environment and that I should be careful who I told that I was a gay man.
I kept asking myself, should I hide who I am and lie or just be myself?” said Anthony, who began his service at Shanks fire station.
“My family couldn’t have been more wrong. My first posting was on Green Watch at Stanks and the team couldn’t have been more welcoming. Since then, I always find myself talking about my partner like anyone else would. I have even had discussions with colleagues around having kids of my own one day and what is available to me and my partner.” As a diversity champion, Anthony will act as a point of contact for Stonewall and will receive support and direction to help develop the fire brigade’s diversity and inclusivity.
“Although the fire service has come a long way to be accepting and understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, there is still work to be done, as there is in society as a whole. I’m lucky that the service has been so accepting and I am proud to be respected as an individual for everything I bring to the table, not just my sexuality.”
Anthony has friends who have experienced homophobic attacks both in the workplace and in public, and hopes that he can help improve tolerance in the wider community.
“It’s a sad fact that in 2016, I can still say I personally know of people that have been verbally or physically attacked because of their sexuality. I decided to become a diversity champion to boost the Stonewall membership and provide our organisation with the experience, knowledge and contacts to be able to assist in driving us forward. It’s not just about staff - we serve a very diverse community and I would like to help us better understand their needs, in particular those of LGBT people” added Anthony.
The West Yorkshire brigade has previously supported the Rainbow Laces campaign, and has also selected ‘straight allies’ from among their employees, including Cookridge fire station watch commander Chris Kovacs and the service’s workforce development advisor Michaela Hill.
“I am so proud of my own staff for putting themselves forward as role-models to promote LGBT awareness – I think we could all learn a little something from their stories,” said deputy chief fire officer Dave Walton.