Man in Uniform: Openly Gay Firefighter Breaks Stereotypes
Are you a man who thinks sports are boring, loves the color pink, or dresses like Cher at the Oscars on Saturday nights? Well then, you must be gay. Those are the rules, right? And if you can’t slide your feminine figure into those stereotypes whelp, you must be straight!
Those are the kinds of cliché assumptions that drive men and women all over the world to run from who they are. Brett Dunckel is one of the men fighting back against the heavy-handed stereotypes that weighed on him, crushing him into hiding.
Dunckel is an openly gay Firefighter Paramedic in Fort Lauderdale who had spent the majority of his life ambivalent about who he was.
"I didn’t know anyone who was gay," he says. "I only knew stereotypes but didn’t identify with any of them."
In absence of a sexual identity, Brett threw himself into service work. He did the Firefighter Explorers as a kid, and then became a lifeguard. The City of Deerfield was the first to hire him as a firefighter. He experienced all the traditional ice breakers of a new job. Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend? He just kept coming up with excuses not to answer.
Dunckel eventually went online to search for others like him; people who wore a badge for a living yet hid their life from it. He ended up discovering Oasis Magazine, a cross between a blog, Q&A, articles, and other writings written by gay people.
"It helped me see that I wasn’t alone. I wanted to be one of those authors." After reading through Oasis and finally addressing who he was, it clicked. "This was my identity. I finally felt whole." He knew he had to tell his family.
"I wrote a letter. I was still living at home so I left it out and went to work a 24 hour shift. I checked my phone all day but had no responses. I found it really strange." He worried that maybe his parents hadn’t read it.
Finally Dunckel’s parents explained that they were fearful of the adversity he would face, and at first there was still a lot of apprehension with his father.
When he came out to the other people in his life, first his brothers and then his friends, they surprised him by not being angry that he was gay, but angry that he hid it. He had to explain what a hard decision it is to come out, that "once you say those words, you can’t take them back."
Dunckel knew the last place left to tell was his job, what he didn’t know was how that was going to come about.
He was at the station eating a popsicle when a female coworker asked jokingly, "So is that how you do it?" making a fellatio innuendo.
"No, do it like this," he joked back with her. It was the beginning of how Dunckel learned to come out -- through laughter. A situation is only as deathly serious as you make it. "Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean we can’t joke around, as long as it’s without malice."
Soon word spread and coworkers approached him asking questions, he answered them all and was able to make a positive impression on them of the gay community.
This idea of coming out began to fascinate him. He found a book called Coming Out From Behind the Badge and read it. Then he emailed the author, Greg Miraglia, and found out about a second edition, American Heroes. He sat down, started typing his story, and sent it to Greg, who loved it and wanted to publish it.
"I had the option to be anonymous, but I wanted to include my name, department and email address. I wanted people to reach out to me if they needed it." Once Dunckel cleared it with his supervisors, who also congratulated him on it, he was good to go.
After he became a part of the book and met some of the other authors he realized that he wanted to do something similar with a focus placed on careers. "You don’t have to be a hairdresser, there are gays in all professions." He soon founded YouCanBeAnything.org.
Dunckel didn’t just want a site of stories though, he wanted LGBT youth to be able to pursue any career they want, and aims to set up a scholarship fund.
He decided to use one of his favorite quotes and the motto of his project. In the simplest way it sums up the very core of what Dunckel wants for his nonprofit.
"You gotta give them hope." - Harvey Milk