For years, construction workers have faced the risk of being ostracized, bullied or fired over their sexual orientation or gender identity. After a lengthy job search in 2008, Jackie Richter, who was transitioning from male to female at the time, says a concrete contractor who wanted to hire her said, “You’ve got the experience, you’ve got the knowledge, and you’d be a great part of our team … but leave your girl clothes home and come as a man.”
The same year, a successful architect, who wishes to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisals, said he was fired when the owners of his company monitored his texts and found out he was gay.
More recently, Guillermo Díaz-Fañas experienced microaggressions at a previous employer due to his perceived mannerisms, even though he wasn’t out as a gay man at the time. Things escalated to the point where unfounded rumors spread among his colleagues that he had AIDS, based solely on the suspicion of his sexual orientation. When he raised concerns to one of his supervisors, nothing happened. “That’s when I understood that it was the leaders who had the problem with me,” he says.
Today, all three have overcome these negative experiences and work to show how inclusivity benefits the industry. Richter owns two successful construction companies in the Chicago area. The architect started his own practice and Díaz-Fañas founded Queer Advocacy and Knowledge Exchange (Qu-AKE), one of the first construction industry groups in the U.S. for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) workers. He also moved to a more inclusive workplace, at WSP, where he thrives as an award-winning senior technical principal.
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