An Everett, Washington Firefighter’s Very Personal Take On Pride Month

June 14, 2019

Everett, Everett Fire

Coffey

Ryan Randall Coffey under a Pride sticker on Engine 2. Photo credit: Ryan Randall Coffey

June is widely recognized as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. The Everett Fire Department has placed PRIDE decals on many of their rigs. Yesterday Everett Firefighter Ryan Randall Coffey posted the following on his Facebook Page. It has been widely shared and I asked him if we could post it here for those who don’t use that platform and he graciously agreed.

What does pride month mean to you? For me it means many things.

It reminds me of a time I hated who I was. Why? Because I couldn’t change who I was attracted too. This internal battle raged on since junior high into my early 20’s. Knowing that I was attracted to men and couldn’t change that as much as I tried bothered me. The stigma attached to being gay always made me hate myself. It made me fearful of what my parents would think, fearful of what my friends would think, and fearful of what my employer would think.

I came out to my parents when I was 24 years old (I’m 29 now). I was fully prepared to no longer have a relationship with them, because this is the sad reality for so many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Luckily my parents were accepting of my sexual orientation even though they didn’t understand it.

My parents are religious and grew up in a conservative area. They just didn’t understand why I’m gay. It wasn’t something I choose, trust me. I prayed and wished and hoped to not be gay. It felt like a terrible curse. I finally accepted who I was, not on my own, but because others before me had the strength to own who they are. They showed me that it gets better.

Transitioning from student to professional I was worried about being an openly gay male firefighter. In a hyper masculine industry it didn’t seem like there was room for an “out” gay guy. I applied and tested for numerous departments in Washington state always kept my orientation a secret, out of fear I wouldn’t be accepted. I anticipated never being able to “be myself” at work. I can attest that isn’t sustainable long term. Thankfully I came across a video on YouTube. It was from the It Gets Better Campaign featuring LGBTQ firefighters and allies from multiple departments in the Seattle area. Near the end of the video they stated they want more LGBTQ firefighters and to come join the Everett Fire Department. I knew at that point I didn’t want to work anywhere else. It was literally a dream come true.

I worked hard and nailed my interview and shortly after was hired by the Everett Fire Department. Even though I was hired I was still conflicted on whether or not I should be “out”. One of the captains in the it gets better video is a bisexual and works for Everett Fire. He mentored me through this dilemma. I decided to just be myself. That was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve spent years not being myself, for me to drop my walls and be comfortable with my sexual orientation out in the open was difficult.

I felt this pressure being the first openly gay male firefighter at my fire department; a pressure to be successful. I was the example for other gay male firefighters behind me. If I failed at showing I was capable of doing the job it wouldn’t just be myself, but every other LGBTQ person after me will be questioned. That pressure isn’t typical for most straight people. They don’t feel if they fail, they have made the path to success harder for people in similar situations.

This is why pride month is so important. It opens the door to talk about the struggles LGBTQ have gone through. Many people don’t understand because they haven’t asked. 50 years ago you were arrested and beaten (sometimes murdered) just because you were gay (enter stonewall riots 1969). The rights of LGBTQ are not equal, even today.

I’m proud to be a civil servant and work for a department and city that is inclusive and makes me feel welcome. Today I’m working on a rig with a rainbow international Association of Firefighter’s sticker; something I would never thought would happen.

So when someone tells me they don’t get “the whole gay thing”, or they don’t understand what the big deal is, instead ask me why pride month is important to me. You will hopefully then realize the struggles that are faced daily. And that even today people in the USA are murdered for being gay or are fearful that they won’t be accepted at work because of their sexual orientation. And something as simple as a rainbow flag sticker on a fire engine shows them they can have a future and be successful.



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About myeverettnews

My Everett News is a hyperlocal news website featuring breaking news and events in Everett, WA. We also cover City of Everett information and items of interest to those who live and work in Everett. It's written by Leland Dart a former Snohomish County based radio reporter born and raised in Everett.

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