The Fire Department of New York teamed up with the It Gets Better Project to release an emotional video featuring LGBT members of the force, just in time for National Coming Out Day.
"As Firefighters, Paramedics and EMTs in the most diverse city in the world, FDNY members have the tremendous opportunity to inspire young people through their brave work every single day," said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro in a statement issued along with the seven-minute clip. "Through this video, they deliver an important message to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth around the world -- it absolutely does get better."
"When the pain of where you're at is stronger than the fear of where you're going, you move forward," says firefighter Luke Allen in the video. "When I came out, I kind of channelled that; I said, OK, I am the other. I'd rather be the other than the cookie-cutter."
Several of those featured in the video speak candidly about fears they faced surrounding coming out at work, especially since some members arrived at FDNY after serving in the military.
"Being able to embrace who you are, and say, 'This is me, I'm not changing for anyone, I love who I am,' is such a powerful, empowering experience," explains Lt. Victor Berrios. "I was so uncomfortable for my first six months on the job, thinking 'I have to maintain this facade, I have to maintain this facade.' And then one day, someone just looked at me, and said, 'What are you doing?'"
"The guys were worried, you know," recalls Allen. "They didn't know what to expect. But after some time, they realized I wasn't much different from themselves."
"What people care about here is whether you can do your job, and whether you can apply yourself and be about giving yourself to other people," says paramedic Samantha Wilding. "I'm not your queer paramedic, I'm not your tall paramedic. I'm not your female paramedic. I'm your paramedic."
The video features 12 LGBT members of New York's Bravest, including the city's first out trans firefighter, Brooke Guinan, candidly share the fear they felt coming to terms with their identities, then pivot the discussion to offer hope and inspiration for those still living in the shadows.
"I think, if anything, I'm a better firefighter, a more compassionate public servant because of the experiences that I've gone through," says Guinan, who transitioned on the job.
At the video's halfway point, it takes a somber but important turn, as the firefighters, paramedics, and chaplains discuss their own personal struggles with depression and suicide.
"My 16th birthday was probably the closest I've ever come to suicide," says Lt. Berrios.
"And I remember, very clearly, just not seeing a future for myself," says Ann Kansfield, FDNY's first female (and lesbian) chaplain. "Or at least not a future that involved happiness or peace. ... Had I ended it, I would have missed so many wonderful things in my life. So since that time, I've found a really healthy relationship with someone I truly love and I'm incredibly grateful to be married to. And we have really delightful children, and I have a healthy relationship with my parents, and a really fulfilling career, and I never, ever would have imagined it in that instance."
Watch the powerful video below.