Trans firefighter overcomes fire and discrimination

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A firefighter and former Royal Marine Katie Cornhill is transgender and lesbian. And of course, nothing was so easy in her life. But now she is happy and successful and she is ready to tell her story to others.

Katie serves as a station manager for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service – where she has worked for more than 17 years – after serving for six years in the Royal Marines. The chair of the recently-launched Fire and Rescue Service LGBT+ staff support network QUILTBAG, Ms Cornhill has serves as a trustee of LGBT rights group Stonewall – and is a progression mentor for The Prince’s Trust.

A woman tells a story of her coming out to her work colleagues: “Before telling my [fire and rescue] colleagues I reminded myself that this is an organisation where people are dedicated to protecting people and making the community safer. My team were very supportive and quickly saw past trans identity, and realised I was still fundamentally me and still able and competent to do the same job. I don’t know how I could have done it without the support of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, which as an organisation supports inclusion, equality and diversity. The fire service has an important role in leading on this issue as they are an organisation that is held in high esteem by the public.” She added: “I don’t think I could have come out if I was still in the Marines – aside from the legal issues that would have created at the time.”

So, Katie was able to find people who love her and support her the way she is. But it has not always been this way. She tells a story of her childhood: “I knew I identified as a girl when I was as young as five, and would dress up in nighties and try on clothes that were and still are stereotypically associated with cisgender females. But when I got older my parents tried to discourage this. I am aware that this was a protective course of action as they feared a negative reaction from family, friends and society that would be isolating for both me and them. I couldn’t repress my feelings and, with the exception of my ex wife and brother’s knowledge, I started living in stealth, only being myself when nobody else, apart from them, were around.When I was growing up there weren’t any gender-variant or transgender role models to help me understand and accept myself”.

Now Katie has become a role model herself and she understands it: “As a proud woman, a proud lesbian and a proud firefighter, it is wonderful to be able to help people realise they are not alone, to inspire them to be themselves, and to realise that they can contribute positively in organisations and to society as competently as anyone else does, irrespective of their self, sexual or gender identity,” she says.

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