Being New York's first and only openly transgender firefighter could be enough of an accomplishment for one lifetime, but Brooke Guinan hasn't stopped there. Now, she's become the most recognizable face of the Vocal Organization for International Courage and Equality's "So What?" campaign, challenging misconceptions around what trans people can achieve.
A third-generation firefighter from Astoria, N.Y., the 27-year-old role model recently talked with New York Daily News about taking part in V.O.I.C.E.'s digital poster campaign and about the "pervasive feeling and the general attitude of society that firefighting is a job for straight men."
"Most queer people think that being a firefighter, a cop, or having a government job is unattainable," she went on. "What a lot don't realize is you can do it."
She made the choice to be visible and open about her experiences, she says, to raise awareness about the high rates of unemployment and homelessness among the trans population, and to inspire other trans and queer folks.
In the poster, which has quickly become the campaign's most popular, Guinan stands in her firefighting gear, hands on her hips, a "So Trans, So What" t-shirt proudly displayed. "Never be afraid to be you!" the poster reads, and that's a message Guinan and her coworkers say they can get behind.
Guinan, who transitioned on the job, spends the time she's not fighting flames in recruitment and outreach, trying to boost LGBT representation in the Fire Department of New York. The FDNY has also, in recent years, become more aware of its need to increase outreach among women and people of color, notes the Daily News. Currently, there are only 40 women besides Guinan serving among New York's 10,200 firefighters.
Guinan and the FDNY hope to see her participation in the "So What?" poster series bring more awareness. "We're very proud of Firefighter Guinan's participation in this important campaign, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told the Daily News. Despite receiving some predictable flack from detractors, Nigro and the rest of the department have happily stood behind Guinan's choice to be vocal and authentic, tweeting out a photo of the poster with a caption acknowledging that the FDNY is proud of Guinan for raising "awareness about LGBTQ rights."