Exclusive: Transgender firefighter says union official’s transphobic remarks ‘incited hate’
A trans firefighter who used to be in the Royal Marines has said that the senior Fire Brigade Union official who made a series of “transphobic” comments has “incited hate.”
Katie Cornhill, who was nominated for the service’s Woman of the Year award in 2016, told PinkNews that Paul Embery’s remarks constituted “a hate incident that should be investigated by the police.”
The Metropolitan Police have informed PinkNews that Embery’s tweets do not appear to have been reported via Twitter or directly to the police.
Embery, an executive council member in the union, tweeted in response to the government’s move last month to reform transgender laws.
He wrote: “Coming next: short people may identify as tall, fat people may identify as thin, and ugly people may pretend to be George Clooney.”
Embery also said that “forcing society to recognise someone as one gender when he/she maintains the anatomy of another is ludicrous,” later calling the concept “Orwellian”.
Cornhill, a station manager for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said she was “disappointed” with the FBU’s response to Embery’s “very harmful” comments.
The FBU did not condemn the remarks, saying that Embery’s views “as expressed on his private Twitter page are his own, and are not those of the Fire Brigades Union.”
Cornhill rubbished this claim, saying: “Social media is not private.
“Channels like Twitter and Facebook are online tannoy systems that have a global reach and explicitly demonstrate who you are, what you are and where you work.
“Taking no action is simply not an option and could show incompetency of leadership within modern society.”
The firefighter, who chairs the service’s LGBT rights group quiltbag, said that “it’s the first time in my whole career I’ve felt threatened by the union.”
And she revealed that others in the service had contacted her with similar concerns.
“My friends felt invalidated,” she said.
Did she feel the same way? “Absolutely.
“When hateful comments as archaic as this are public, if organisations don’t call it out and take a position that its not their personal view when the individual is clearly linked to them…this will be received by many that the Fire and Rescue Service is in fact a negative career choice and does not foster good relations or believe in reducing discrimination.
She said that “as public services, we need to address these issues head-on and find the time to deal with them, because it’s these kinds of incidents that unsettle not just one workforce – it unsettles the whole sector.
“It shows perhaps that we need stronger leadership around inclusion.”
Embery “doesn’t deserve to be in the Fire and Rescue Service,” Cornhill said firmly.
She said that just like her, Embery must have become a firefighter to help protect people.
But now, she added, Embery “doesn’t deserve to have any respect whatsoever from the people he’s supposedly in the Fire and Rescue Service to protect and look after.”
She said that she had “no idea” why he had made such “ridiculous comments”.
“As public services, we strive to reduce risk and eliminate it wherever we can.
“It’s well researched that there is an increased risk of social isolation, self-harm – or worse, suicide – amongst those whose gender identity is not cisgender,” Cornhill said.
“Comments which fundamentally reflect an inhumane mind and discriminatory values like these only serve to increase that risk, abuse the taxpayers’ pounds and affect people’s lives.”
Addressing LGBT people who may now worried about joining the FRS after Embery’s tweets, Cornhill urged them to ignore the comments and join the service to improve it.
“We need more diversity in the Fire and Rescue Service, so that all of our communities feel they’re truly protected and valued as members of society.”
She implored: “Please do not be put off. Rise above these very sad comments…and see that this is not representative of the Fire and Rescue Service.
“I’d go further than that, and say it’s not representative of the public service at all.”
Meanwhile, Embery was unrepentant, telling PinkNews that if people were offended – which they are – it was “their problem.”
He said: “I criticised a government proposal which I consider to be flawed, unworkable and potentially dangerous.
“My position is shared by others on the political left, including many feminists who are concerned that the legislation would undermine years of women’s struggle.
“The suggestion that our view on this amounts to a ‘hate crime’ is barking mad. If people are offended by my comments, that’s their problem.
“No idea or opinion is beyond criticism, and genuine debate should not be suppressed by cries of ‘hatred’ and ‘bigotry’.
“When it comes to scrutiny of proposed government legislation, emotion and hysteria should not take the place of critical thought.
“Sadly, I find that those who shout loudest about ‘tolerance’ and ‘diversity’ are often the same people who demand absolute conformity when it comes to political opinions.
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“I challenge anyone who thinks we should nod through ill-thought-out legislation simply out of fear of upsetting a particular group of people.”
FBU President Alan McLean also defended Embery and union, saying: “I have instructed some immediate action by him to take off all FBU-related images from his Twitter account, which he has complied with.
“I can categorically state the tweet was sent in a personal capacity and was the subject of legitimate debate, as many contentious issues are.
“I want to assure you that in this union we have our own code of conduct and a disciplinary procedure which will not be breached, alongside our policies and our proud record in defending those whose voices cannot be easily heard.
“That said I maintain the right of all individuals to have their say, particularly regarding issues which will potentially become law,” he added.
“Their say on this union’s behalf will not, however, and will never be contradictory to our policies, aspirations and aims.
“This matter will be dealt with internally and if necessary will be under the rules of our union.”