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Pride 2022: Fresno Fire’s first female chef, Kerri Donis, shares her journey as a lesbian, mother and wife |  Our America: Who I’m Meant to Be


FRESNO, Calif. — For Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis, being a mother and wife was the easy part. Finding her place as a queer woman in a male-dominated field in a more conservative community was a challenge.

“We constantly have to prove our merit to be in this profession,” Donis said. “It’s sad to do this as a woman. We have to do more than our counterparts to say, ‘We deserve to be here too.'”

Born in the Midwest, Donis was recruited to play softball at Fresno State and worked as a personal trainer after college. A chance interaction with a client prompted her to take a test to become a firefighter.

“She started clicking, ‘You have to be a team player. You have to be disciplined, have a work ethic and be mentally and physically strong.’ A light bulb went on and I thought, ‘I’ve been doing this my whole life as a student-athlete,’ she said.

Early in her firefighting career, Donis said she never felt the need to come out as a lesbian, although she would not deny that part of her identity if asked.

That changed when she met his wife Laurie.

“I knew we were going to have a great life together. I was 100% all-in, which was different from where I was going in my professional career,” she said. “I was very determined to say, ‘I need to be open about my sexuality to everyone, especially if I’m going to be running this fire department. “”

Donis also noted that she never wanted her two children to perceive feelings of embarrassment in her identity. Years later, while running for fire chief, Donis shared that part of his life with former Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, showing him a photo of his wife and children.

“I said, ‘This is what my family is like, which is very different from most people. And a lot of people in that community will think I can’t lead because of that.’

“We need women, men and women of color, transgender [people] — anyway — make a good quilt for this department [so it] can serve our community in the same way it is represented,” she added.

The LGBTQIA+ community is not a monolith. It is multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-confessional and multi-dimensional. This Pride Month, we’re celebrating members of this diverse community in a special series called Our America: Who I’m Meant to Be. Click here for more stories from your city and the country.

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