Equality in the Trucking Industry

by Fran Bernard, on May 1, 2023 2:57:43 PM

Photo: Shelle Lichti via The Rainbow Rider Fan Page on Facebook

Skills and qualifications - that is what driving a truck is all about. Can you pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) Physical and drug screen, do you have a CDL? Do you have a good driving record? Do you have any felonies? Those are the important questions that need to be answered to be hired by a trucking company.

It shouldn’t matter if your hair is green, purple, or orange. If you are a man or a woman, black, Asian, Hispanic, or white, it shouldn’t matter. Additionally, it also should not matter if you are lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer (or questioning), no matter what you identify with.

The trucking industry is in need of skilled, qualified drivers. That’s it! Qualified drivers, nothing more and nothing less. Let’s say it together: “equality for skilled drivers.”

To the members of the LBGTQ+ community, equality is not just another word. It is something they strive for continuously. Both Shelle Lichti, a 25-year veteran driver and founder of LGBT Truckers, and Bobby Coffey-Loy, media, and public relations specialist, have been working to provide support and encouragement to LGBTQ+ individuals across the transportation industry.

While being a truck driver offers countless benefits, including competitive pay and flexible hours, it comes as no surprise that LGBTQ+ individuals have had a hard time seeing themselves in the industry in the past.

With all the changes in the trucking industry, more and more people are becoming increasingly interested in truck driving. With that in mind, drivers, LBGTQ+ or not, all want and need a positive work environment.

Bobby stressed the importance of safety for the LGBTQ+ community in the industry. While the overall culture has improved over the years, LGBTQ+ individuals still feel the need to be looking over their shoulder.

Carriers are trying harder to get to know their drivers, and find out what their needs and wants are or if they have any fears of being on the road. This makes drivers feel validated and appreciated while allowing the carrier to increase satisfaction and retention. From fleet managers to dispatchers, everyone needs to be aware of the dangers and challenges that the LGBTQ+ community face daily. This will also prepare them to help the LGBTQ+ feel safer while working with them.

There may be certain challenges that carriers need to recognize and proactively address having LGBTQ+ truck drivers as part of their fleet. Knowing that the carriers care and are addressing issues and concerns may give other existing drivers in their fleet the strength to be themselves while at work.

Getting to know their drivers is the best way to learn about their needs and wants. They may have certain fears about being out on the road. Reaching out to them will make their employees feel validated and appreciated while allowing the carrier to increase satisfaction and retention.

“We’re just trying to help others feel comfortable with who they are,” said Bobby. "I’m here to do the same job as the next person beside me. We do the job the same as anyone else. It should be looked at that way."

“I really want people to start accepting people for who they are and realize that we’re all truckers.”

LGBT Truckers paves a new road for drivers in the industry | Omnitracs

The openness of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer (or questioning) community has increased in trucking, as it has elsewhere, in recent years. There are signs of tolerance in major sectors of the industry – fleets, truck stops and truck makers – and in some cases active endorsement of diversity in sexual identity.

Beyond the acceptance drivers have found at certain fleets, many LGBTQ + drivers express appreciation for the opportunities that are common to over-the-road trucking, especially considering the sexual-identity prejudices that exist in many workplaces. The protection that comes from feeling powerful behind the wheel, operating in relative isolation, and working in a field with high demand for skilled drivers are positive reasons to continue trucking.

“How you dress or present yourself is not necessarily a barrier to trucking jobs in contrast to other industries,” Anne Balay author of “Semi Queer: Inside the Lives of Gay, Trans, and Black Truck Drivers,” says. “Many find that trucking gives them the opportunity to feel useful while keeping a low profile.”

During her research, Anne found that trans people gravitate toward truck driving because it provides some level of safety (truck drivers work alone), anonymity (truckers communicate with colleagues over CB radio), and lack of discrimination during hiring (many truckers are hired over the phone).

Also in the mix is an increasingly vocal minority of queer and transgender truckers, drawn by the decent pay and relative solitude of the job. According to one transgender woman Anne interviewed, “There’s enough of us out here now that we can feel more bold and be more visible.”

Additionally, “recruiters are specifically seeking out women truckers because there’s a perception that women are safer, more dependable, and that there’s an untapped labor market,” says Anne.

The-Rainbow-Rider-truck-love-is-love-1200x628Ride with Pride: With changing times, LGBTQ truckers move more confidently in spite of lingering harassment | Overdrive (overdriveonline.com)

Keaira Finlay, who was a jet propulsion mechanic, left her job when she transitioned. Trucking became a lifeline of sorts. "A lot of us experience rejection. From family, friends, colleagues," she says. "There are people out there who've left jobs that paid six figures because the workplace became extremely hostile, or they couldn't find a job because they were Trans. With the industry crying out for drivers, if you can drive a truck, and not destroy one, keep a good record, then you are golden. You'll have a career."

Ellie O'Daire drives reefer for Jim Palmer Trucking out of Missoula, MT. "I made sure they knew I was Trans and that they had spoken with the trainers, and they found someone who I wasn’t going to have a conflict with, and it worked out just fine. They had a trainer at the time, a woman named Leah, who trained me and at least two other transgender drivers, both trans-men and trans-women."

She is very cautious while on the road. "I stick to myself a lot so it’s mostly a matter of figuring out which places I can park that are going to be safe. I favor rest areas and weigh stations because they have a lot of police that go through there. A lot of rest areas also have gender-neutral bathrooms. I try to avoid parking at truck stops that are kind of sketchy. LGBT truckers share tales from the road | FleetOwner

Truck driver Shelle Lichti’s beloved “Rainbow Rider” Pride-themed tractor is getting a makeover courtesy of Hirschbach Motor Lines.

Hirschbach has a diverse workforce inside the office as well as on the road, said Jillayne Pinchuk, who serves as driver liaison for the company. “In this time of divisiveness, we wanted to take more of a public stance in favor of inclusiveness and love. There is a time and place for companies to make positive statements toward a better view of the world.”

“We weren’t necessarily looking for a voice,” she said. “We are open to anyone who wants to work hard and fulfill our mission of providing great service to our customers and safety to the public.”

Besides Lichti’s full-time trucking career, she founded LGBT Truckers in 2008 after a longtime trucking friend, a gay man, was brutalized at a truck stop. LGBT Truckers now has more than 5,300 members.

Hirschbach, LGBT Truckers rolling out new ‘Rainbow Rider’ Pride-themed truck - FreightWaves

The trucking industry has been a tumultuous journey for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. While the industry is coming around and becoming increasingly more accepting of all genders, the industry still needs support.

The LGBT truckers got started because there was a need in the LGBT trucking community to create a safe environment for each of us to talk to each other and not feel so alone and outcast,” Shelle said, adding that there is nothing better than a sense of community amongst others who either identify with you or share the same values.

If you are an LGBTQ+ driver just starting out in the trucking industry, some good advice to take would be to Network. It can be very important both on and off the road. Starting out in the trucking industry can be overwhelming at times. It is important to maintain relationships with those at home, as well as your co-workers.

Networking with other drivers on the road can be crucial in helping you find a driving company that matches your values and accepts you for who you are. Utilizing social media is one of the easiest and most effective ways to do this. Always be cautious, and aware of your surroundings.

No job is wonderful all the time, there are always going to be hard times along with the good times. The trucking industry can offer a very fun and rewarding career. You can travel and enjoy your journey. Your job will be what you make it and when you surround yourself with people that respect, care, and support you it will definitely be worth it. LGBT Truckers on the Road (alltruckjobs.com)

Dianna Vasher is one of a growing number of trans women finding safety, freedom, and a viable career path in cross-country truck driving.

Dianna loves her job as a truck driver. Each week, she drives 3,000 miles in an 18-wheeler that feels like home. The cab is decorated with twinkling lights and her steering wheel cover is pink leather.

Truckers take immense pride in their work. For Dianna, who’s 48 years old, trucking is more than just a job. It’s one of the few well-paid, blue-collar industries that gives her the freedom to be herself as an openly transgender and bisexual woman.

 “This is the ideal profession for one that’s trans,” says Dianna. “If transgender women have difficulty living as a woman at home, you put them in a truck where they have their own space, they can dress however they want and nobody’s judging them. Plus, they’re making money while they’re doing it.”

Workplace safety is often a top concern for transgender people, with 90% reporting outright harassment at work or hiding their gender identity to avoid discrimination, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

“You’re safer in the truck than you are at home, working at Walmart,” Dianna says, adding that she’s earned the respect of her cisgender male colleagues because “not everybody can drive a truck.” “This is the ideal profession for someone that’s trans.”

According to Dianna, “companies don’t care if you’re purple or pink.” The only thing that matters, she says, is your commercial driver’s license and a good score on the DAC report — essentially a detailed driving record for commercial truckers. “If you’ve got a CDL and your DAC report is good, you’re getting a job.”

Dianna says she had to work her way up to get the opportunity to work at an “awesome” trucking company called Artur Express, where she makes close to $90,000. The bottom line is that in a truck, “you can be who you are.”

The mainstay demographic of white male truckers is reaching retirement age, says Sean McNally, vice president of public affairs at the American Trucking Associations. Nowadays, he says, trucking companies are casting a wider net into “nontraditional” places in their search for qualified drivers.

No matter what, if you have a trucking company that prioritizes the respect, safety, and happiness of their drivers, you have a great carrier to work for, because after all, their skilled drivers of the trucking industry, LGBTQ+ or not.

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Topics:Human ResourcesDriver PerspectiveGender Diversity Issues

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