Written by Kait Tyschenko
The Queer experience in 2021 sits at various crossroads. LGBTQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two spirit, plus) Pride festivals occur in rainbow-plastered brilliance across the world, corporations funnel sponsorships into Queer focused events and branding, and yet if you ask most “out” Queer folks, safety and security are still fears many of us experience. Today, in 2021, 69 countries still criminalize same-sex relations1, meaning that millions of queer folks continue to live in fear of being who they are.
Queer folks have existed, thrived, and loved since the earliest known records. We are not new, but our cultural and collective-community understanding of Queerness is still in its infancy when compared to other collective-community understandings of belonging. As a community that has had to find a way to exist in oppressive, anti-queer societies, our communities have been largely comprised of chosen families, and claiming that family is always at the risk of losing the one we were and are born to. We are a mosaic of people, connected by our perceived “otherness” to the dominant heterosexual society, and a community that in 2021 is still struggling to regain the connections to our shared heritage that were severed by the loss of the elder Queer generation to the AIDS Epidemic. The political climate at the time deterred any proactive or supportive federal response while AIDS took a devastating toll on urban gay communities2. LGBTQ2S+ people saw their partners, friends, and family die in front of their eyes, and with them an entire generation of learnings, culture, and identity.
I bring up the dark parts of our past and present Queer experience to lay context and understanding for the Queer existence today. Not one Queer person’s experience translates into another; we are all existing in a predominantly anti-queer world, and at multitudes of intersections of systemic oppression. Queer folks are also victims of racial injustice and gender-based violence. Queer transcends everything: able-bodied and disabled, sick and healthy, rich and poor, criminalized, racialized, religious and agnostic, and everything in between. It is an identity that will always exist, regardless of time, place, or geographic location. We are a metaphorical bridge between continents, connected by the dual experiences of love and oppression, as well as the unified struggle of finding ourselves in a world that wishes we would disappear.
As a Queer, Non-binary, white person, my playbook is written by the Black and trans visionaries, the shoulders of whom our movements stand on today. We must listen, gather, learn, and fight in the ways we have always done. This is why, in 2021, my contribution to this playbook is bringing Queer togetherness and activism to an industry that so truly needs it, the Canadian Construction sector.
The Canadian Construction sector faces multitudes of issues regarding Diversity and Inclusion. No data exists on the number of LGBTQ2S+ people who are in the Canadian Construction sector, and there is minimal research on the experience of our community. However, the complexity of taking into account sexual orientation or gender identity should not be used as an excuse for non-engagement with these minorities3.
Work in the United Kingdom by Ramchurn’s4,5 and Hansford’s6,7 reports on research in the construction sector showed between 8 and 14% of gay employees felt that they could be open about their sexuality in contracting roles, which of course implies that between 86 and 92% are not comfortable with their sexuality being known.
Additionally, it must be remembered that no Queer person only comes out once – existing as Queer and ‘out’ means that one must come out time and time again. “Therefore, being ‘out’ or ‘coming out’ falls along a continuum of: concealment, select colleagues knowing, to fully being out, which also changes over time. Overall, sexual minorities make decisions about coming out partly in response to the organisational context and how they assess what terms the danger of disclosure against dangers of non-disclosure – meaning that there are risks associated with either option”8.
So, how do we create inclusive and diverse spaces for people in the Construction sector, for the LGBTQ2S+ community and beyond?
We listen. We stop speaking over our colleagues when they raise issues of harassment and discrimination. We trust their accounts, and we commit to radical and swift change. The playbook is out there, it’s been out there. People from all points of existence have been demanding change at the corporate level for decades, and it is time people in power stopped silencing them and started passing them the mic.
The work has been done, there are people in your workplaces who are ready and willing to be a part of the change (while being paid for their efforts) to make our world a better place.
The only question is, as a leader, are you willing to pass the mic and the baton, or are you still pandering to the systems that be?
If, as a reader, you sit as a Queer person in Construction or another field where you are made to feel othered merely for existing as yourself, this is for you. We are not yet fully welcome in these spaces, and some of us face more outright hostility and discrimination than others. We still work within companies and structures that would much rather put up a Pride video (without consulting a single Queer person) than do the work to solve the issues of homophobia and transphobia within the workplace.
I will not tell you that it is easy, but we already exist in these spaces and we need to find community in our workplaces. It is not up to us to martyr ourselves to executives, leaders, and our own managers to educate them on why being accepted and safe is the right. It is on us to take care of ourselves, find our communities, and support each other in any way we are able to do so.
Whether or not your organization has a formal structure for Employee Resource Groups (‘ERGs’), co-creating a community has been my one saviour at the end of a long week with countless doors slammed in my face when advocating for better Diversity and Inclusion standards at work.
To the industry leaders reading this, it is on you to step up to the standard that has been set before you in 2021 to listen to the communities you say you care about. Any decision in regard to Diversity and Inclusion should start and end with community approval. Any action you take in regard to Diversity and Inclusion should centre the community in the discussions. If not, your actions are nothing more than a PR strategy, and not a move to make our industry more inclusive for everyone.
The LGBTQ+ community has been raising our voices, concerns, and suggestions for years on how we can create change in the Canadian construction industry. As a leader, what will you do to take these voices and give them the platform they need?
“Any action you take in regard to Diversity and Inclusion should centre the community in the discussions. If not, your actions are nothing more than a PR strategy, and not a move to make our industry more inclusive for everyone.”
Kait Tyschenko (They/Them) is a passionate sustainability professional and LGBTQ2S+ advocate. They are the founder of the Queer Infrastructure Network (‘QUIN’), a new networking group to further inclusion of the Queer community in the infrastructure sector.