Pictured San Diego's new openly lesbian fire chief, Tracy Jarman. Photos by Rex Wockner
San Diego's new openly lesbian fire chief is trying to come to grips with being a gay role model now.
'I'm kind of adjusting to it since this has all been finalized,' Tracy Jarman said in an interview.
Jarman was selected by Mayor Jerry Sanders June 20 and approved unanimously by the City Council on June 26. She already was serving as interim fire chief following the resignation of former Chief Jeff Bowman.
Jarman initially turned down a request to be interviewed by the gay media and, after we got her to change her mind, she still answered 'no' when asked if it's 'noteworthy' that the nation's eighth-largest city selected an open lesbian as fire chief.
'I think it's really based on my leadership, my character, experience, the knowledge I bring to the position,' she said.
But then she paused.
'I think—well, I don't know,' she said. 'I think for women and for the gay community, it's a noteworthy event. But it's not what determined that I'd be the fire chief.'
Jarman said she's 'kind of a private person' and has always kept her personal and professional lives separate.
'My brothers and sisters do the same thing, so I think it's more the way we were raised,' she said.
But after being hired as a firefighter 22 years ago, Jarman nonetheless started slowly coming out on the job.
'I think there were a few close friends early on that knew, that I shared with, but really the rest of the department wasn't aware,' she said. 'I think over time, as I was higher up in the organization, more people knew, so I came out more at the senior-staff level.'
For the past four or five years, Jarman has marched in the gay pride parade with the police-and-fire contingent.
But she still knows only 'a handful' of other gays and lesbians in the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
'I'm sure there might be others,' she said. 'But that's everybody's personal choice and I don't know everybody in the fire department. I used to know a lot more people, but there's 1,200 people now.'
The chief said her sexual orientation never once came up in the process that led to her selection as the city's top firefighter.
'The conversations with the mayor were just wonderful,' she said. 'It was: 'What are the issues in the department? What do we need to fix?' ... The issue of my personal life wasn't an issue, or the fact that I was a woman.'
When a reporter suggested that maybe she's 'an example of the world the gay movement has been trying to build, where it doesn't matter anymore,' Jarman said: 'That's what I'd like to think! Really, maybe we've arrived to that point.
''The world that I'm in today is not the world that I was in 22 years ago,' she said. 'And I have to say, I think the media has done a lot. You know, the shows on TV, the movies that have come out—almost every one [ of them ] today has a gay character of some sort in it. I don't know—my younger nephews and nieces, it's not a big deal.'
But even in the 1980s and '90s, Jarman said she didn't have any gay-related troubles at the department.
'Never has been an issue. Not to my knowledge. Nothing that I was ever aware of,' she said.
And she's seen nothing but smiles since becoming chief.
'I have been overwhelmed by the support from the rank and file. It's just been incredible,' she said. 'And there may be people out there that aren't happy about it, but I certainly haven't heard that. I'm not hearing those rumblings anywhere.
'I think it speaks more to my abilities and my proven track record of what I've done for the department, that they're happy that I'm up at the top of the organization,' she said.
Jarman's journey began in 1982 when she slept on the steps of Balboa Park's War Memorial Building for nine nights to maintain the 59th spot in a long line for 60 new firefighter jobs.
These days, she lives with domestic partner Marcia Bonini and says she's 'fortunate that I'm in a fire department in a city that values cultural diversity.'
'My hat's off to the city of San Diego,' she said. 'they took this [ diversity ] on a long time ago and we're fortunate that we live here, and that we have that kind of opportunity.'
Jarman hopes to make the department more diverse, despite budget cuts that have left it with only one recruiter, who concentrates on high-school career fairs.
'It's not just in the gay community,' she said. 'I think we need to do a better job of recruiting across the board so that we reflect the community. ... That's something I talked to Sanders about.'