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Coming Out in the Construction Industry

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To wrap up Pride month in the UK, Talking Trade host Andy Willcox discussed coming out stories and LGBTQIA+ Pride with transgender tradeswoman Christina Riley and founder of The Pink Builders: gay tradesman Neal.

What does ‘Coming Out’ mean?

‘Coming Out’ is a term given to the occasion when members of the LGBTQIA+ community feel ready to reveal their authentic selves to their friends and family. Due to the fact that historical and cultural attitudes to LGBTQIA+ issues have typically been contentious, coming out can be a difficult and confusing time for many. However, it can also be an enlightening and freeing experience.

Sharing these stories can encourage inclusivity and acceptance by giving listeners a chance to empathise with what is usually a momentous occasion in the life of an LGBTQIA+ member, especially within the construction industry. Neal and Christina were generous enough to share their coming-out stories and experiences with us on this episode of Talking Trade.

Neal’s story

“I came out as a gay tradesman aged 32. I always thought I was gay, but I didn’t do anything about it, like a lot of people in my generation. Probably because I didn’t know how people were going to react.

Then, one day, I recognised that life was too short, so I came out. It got to the point where I had to tell my mother. I wasn’t frightened, but at the same time, I didn’t want to upset her.

Once I had told her, I told everybody! It was fantastic and incredible. I phoned my friend to tell him, and he already knew about it! Then I told him that I had met somebody new and that we were going to move in together. And straight away, he asked me what his name was! He probably knew I was gay before I did.

Now I run the Pink Builders with my life partner.

I’ve been in the trade for nearly forty years. The Pink Builders fosters an environment of inclusion; we mostly get gay clients who know they’re working with builders who are comfortable with their life choices.”

Christina’s story

“I am a transgender woman. Being trans is about your gender identity, and being gay is about your sexuality, so there is a difference there, but I imagine that the coming out stories can be similar.

I had been working for a construction company for 22 years in my previous gender. At that time, I began to gradually realise that I was trans, and I never knew how I could come out. The culture there made me feel like it wasn’t possible to come out as a trans person and that created a lot of stress for me.

I became quite ill with panic attacks; my heart would race and I was very unwell for probably about ten years. The anxiety was so severe because I was hiding who I really was. It felt like it was never going to end; I thought I was going to die. The way I think about it now is that I had to transition in order to save myself. The only way I could cure my anxiety was to face the fear.

That’s when I left that construction company and joined Balfour Beatty. When I joined in 2013, I looked at their diversity and inclusion reports, and there wasn’t a lot there- may be only a couple of pages. I was still Chris (my previous gender) at work at that time, but I was beginning to transition to Christina in my private life. I wondered how I was going to make that change in the workplace.

Then, Balfour Beatty launched an LGBTQIA+ network. It was everywhere- they had it on their screens and in their reception areas. When I signed in for work and saw it all, I knew that I was going to go to the launch day.

At the end of the launch day, I came out to somebody in HR.

Coming out changed my life completely and set a whole list of things in motion, like coming out to my family: my two daughters, my parents, my friends, my colleagues… It was a massive thing back then, but now it feels more normalised.”

 

Find out more about Balfour Beatty’s LGBTQIA+ network here.
Looking for more resources about LGBTQIA+ and construction? The Chartered Institute of Building has an Equality Diversity & Inclusion charter that you can check out here.
Want even more? The Construction Industry Council has launched a Diversity and Inclusion roadmap for change and they want your support. Find out more.
Do you have a story that you would like to share with us? Or maybe you want to suggest a topic for Talking Trade? Get in touch.

 

These stories have been edited for length and clarity. To listen to the complete stories, watch the Talking Trade episode about celebrating Pride in construction.

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