Kyle Lovell is working to make sure that the Baltimore City Fire Department is a better, more welcoming place for employees and citizens.
With initiatives such as department-wide sensitivity training, the establishment of a committee composed of LGBTQ members of the fire department, and his new position, LGBTQ liaison, Lovell hopes to cement that.
“We’re starting to see a positive effect in the community,” said Lovell, a native of Kenosha, Wisconsin, who now lives near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. “They [community members] will send me messages when the fire department has job opening. It warms my heart. It shows the positive effect that we are trying to show our community.”
Lovell, a five-year-veteran of the department, approached Fire Chief Niles R. Ford a year ago with the idea of creating the liaison position.
“In the past few years, many fire departments have created these positions as a step of bridging the gap within the community,” explained Lovell, 25, adding that he regularly communicates with liaisons in departments in New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. “Not that many people believe that they can be a firefighter or paramedic.”
The son of a nurse mother and a retired firefighter/paramedic father added: “I thought we could really use this in our community because we have a very large gay community. I wrote a letter to the chief and spoke to him of the needs of our community and how it could help the fire department and the community. He was all for it. We met every month.”
Ford, in a prepared statement, said one of his “key priorities” is to create a more inclusive and diverse fire department, adding that his expectation is to “strengthen relationships with the City of Baltimore’s LGBTQ Office, fire department members and community advocates in order to enhance our awareness about the needs of the LGBTQ community.”
Lovell hopes to do this by encouraging LGBTQ members in the department to feel supported, and also to help build better community relations by forming partnerships and increasing fire department participation at LGBTQ-related events.
“We’re all trying to promote that you can be who you are,” Lovell said. “It doesn’t matter the color, culture, sexual orientation, as long as you are good at your job, you can do this job.”
Under Lovell’s guidance, diversity training focused on the LGBTQ community has been provided for all 1,700 members of the fire department. That training taught department members to use proper pronouns and how to properly interact with members of the LGBTQ community.
“It helps you understand how to address someone in the most respectful way when interacting with someone and not being offensive,” Lovell explained.
Department members also received training about health conditions and disparities that affect the LGBTQ community.
A committee was created, BCFD Pride, where members of the LGBTQ within the department meet regularly and brainstorm ideas and best practices for the department. Through this committee, a number of weaknesses were identified throughout the department and addressed. For example, all bathrooms in all firehouses are now gender-neutral and labeled with proper signage.
The committee also sold rainbow logoed T-shirts for $20 to raise money for Baltimore Safe Haven, a nonprofit that supports transgender youth. Department employees were allowed to wear the shirts at work for the month of June, which is LGBTQ Pride Month. More than 700 T-shirts were sold during the fundraiser, according to Lovell.
Jabari Lyles, chief operating officer at Baltimore Safe Haven, and past liaison/executive director of the Baltimore City LGBTQ commission, praised the creation of the position and the efforts of the fire department.
“It ensures that when our community interacts with someone from the fire department that it will be done with respect,” Lyles said. “It’s also making sure they have a safe and inclusive workplace considering the history of fire departments in this country. It’s making sure that the fire department’s work is safe and affirming.”
Lyles said he has known Lovell for the past year.
“I really honor Kyle’s courage in taking on this work,” Lyles said. “Ten years ago — and still today — people don’t feel comfortable being who they are in government. For Kyle to look that right in the face and recognize that his visibility is more important than the pushback is courageous.”
Lyles added: “I’m curious to see what are the other ways that the fire department can earnestly do this work. I believe that they will. The fire department really wants to get this work right. I would like to see this action within all city agencies.”
Mayor Brandon Scott praised the fire department’s creation of the liaison position and all the initiatives that have resulted from it.
“This is a positive step for the Baltimore City Fire Department and our entire community. Our LGBTQ neighbors deserve to have representation within city agencies,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to the continued leadership of Kyle to help advance inclusion within BCFD and boost LGBTQ engagement across Baltimore.”
This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at firstname.lastname@example.org.