Patricia Nell Warren

New York City remembers a firefighter

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | August 22, 2007 3:46 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, The Movement
Tags: firefighters, New York City, obituary, straight allies

A gay firefighter friend emailed me that one of the two firefighters who died the other day, fighting the blaze in the abandoned Deutsch Bank building near the WTC site, was Bobby Beddia, long-time supporter of FireFLAG/EMS. This extraordinary organization works for LGBT equality among firefighters, fire officers, EMTs and paramedics in fire/rescue services. FireFLAG has made its out mark in New York history, including losses of brave members on 9/11. But the visibility and respect that the organization enjoys today wasn't always there. Fire departments, like police departments, can have their deep streak of homophobia.

FireFLAGlogo.jpgOver many years, my FDNY friend knew Bobby Beddia as the Sunday bartender at Chumley's. For those who aren't familiar with the city, Chumley's is one of New York's most historic and literary drinking establishments, located on Bedford Street in the West Village. It is also NY's straightest firefighter bar. So the storied walls are crowded with plaques from FDNY departments all over the city, as well as fire departments across the U.S.

My friend Billy wrote me, "Five or six years ago, Bobby invited FireFLAG to hold our after-Pride March party at Chumley's. When he asked us to bring a plaque, I couldn't believe it. He wasn't gay, had a beautiful girlfriend, a total flirt to all men and women, a great bartender and a decent man. Chumley's was his second job to keep his gorgeous girlfriend in the nicer things in life, which he loved doing.

"We all went there after the march, which we finished at 2 or so that afternoon, and forty gay firefighters and friends kissed, greeted, ate and drank there. We presented him with a plaque, which now hangs with all those of other fraternals all over the country. It is hard to imagine today what an incredible big deal that was for our group. It was one of the first times we were 'accepted' as equal, the same as, and no different. I have never forgotten that, and we have gone back year after year."

On Friday, August 24, New York City will turn out for one of her unique firefighter funerals. As the drumbeats and the skirl of Irish bagpipes echo, and crowds line the streets, thousands of firefighters in dark uniform and white gloves will march in remembrance of Robert Beddia of Engine 24 and Joseph Graffagnino of Ladder 5. At the review stand, FDNY is seating pioneering members of FireFLAG in the VIP section. As my friend Billy pointed out, "Change is sometimes great; sometimes, in the model of Rosa Parks, it is small in scope and huge in impact. FireFLAG exists today because of so many people's efforts...Bobby Beddia's among them."

So here's a toast to you, Bobby. Your plaque is on the shining wall of those who cared and fought. May your journey into the spirit world be a good one.

(For information on the funerals, or to make donations please visit www.ufalocal94.org)


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