Rachel Mosby – fire chief in Byron, Ga., for more than a decade – is happier than she’s ever been. She traces it to a significant step in her life – coming out as transgender.
There aren't many openly transgender firefighters across the country and Mosby (photo) is the only openly transgender chief in the U.S., according to the International EMS & Firefighters Pride Alliance.
“I’ve had people that have known me for any length of time say they can’t remember a time where I smiled as much, joked as much and generally seemed happier overall,” Mosby told Project Q Atlanta.
Mosby has been with the Byron Fire Department since 2007 and has been fire chief since 2008. She started medically transitioning in 2016, which stood out in this Middle Georgia town of 5,000 people.
“Living in a small town and the fire services itself being a small community unto itself, rumors start circulating,” Mosby said.
By summer 2017, she realized she needed to address the rumors.
“It had started to impact the morale of my people. I didn’t realize how much it had,” Mosby said. “A lot of that just had to do with them feeling like I couldn’t trust them with it.”
She was anxious about the response she would face.
“All of my firefighters told me that I didn’t have a thing to worry about,” Mosby said. “They looked at me and said, ‘We’ve got your back, Chief.’
“It felt like I made some really good hiring decisions,” she added, laughing.
Mosby received the same level of support from her superiors and from the city council. It helped that she had a track record in Byron.
“I wasn’t somebody that had been working here for 30 days,” she said. “I spent almost a decade building relationships and leaned on that to get me through all the hard conversations.”
Mosby said you’d be surprised by how many LGBTQ people there are in Byron and in Middle Georgia. It’s a factor that’s helped smooth the way for her to be out to others in town.
“Even being in a small town in a very conservative area in a very conservative state, there are still unbelievable numbers of people that are understanding and accepting – even though they don’t agree or fully understand it – and people that appreciate what I’ve gone through and go through,” she said.
She’s even talking with friends about organizing a Middle Georgia Pride in June.
“Even if it’s just a picnic in the park during Pride weekend,” she said. “We looked at the population numbers and we all know how many [LGBTQ] people we know, and we wondered why this whole middle part of the state doesn’t have something like that.”
It’s taken Mosby a long time to get to this point.
“For a kid growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there just wasn’t any information [on being transgender], especially in a small town where you aren’t exposed to knowing a wide diversity of people,” she said.
She said there were suicide attempts, divorces and self-harming behavior.
“There were a lot of things in my life that have impacted me that I didn’t fully understand then that I do now,” she said.
Mosby spends her days on the job now as she always has.
“I’m liable to be anywhere from helping the crew out fighting a fire to doing fire inspections to signing off on business licenses, office and budget and paperwork,” she said.
“When you’re a small shop, you kind of wear a lot of different hats. I always say that pretty much my job here is I’m the oil in a squeaky machine, so anywhere that needs help, that’s where I jump in,” she added.
Photo courtesy Rachel Mosby