Photo of a mechanic holding lug nuts in his hand and a brake disc in the blurred background.

OPINION: LGBTQ Pride Must Extend to the Trades

by Morgan Mentzer and Deaunte Damper

President Joe Biden’s multiple restructure plans focus significantly on building and creating new infrastructure, training trades workers, and supporting labor unions. However, without a cultural reckoning for the trades that addresses the toxic workplace culture permeating much of the industry and preventing nontraditional workers from entering or remaining in the trades, the restructure plan will further exacerbate the racial and gender disparities. Biden’s ambitious plans lean on the trades to address the economic impacts of COVID-19, the significant unemployment and the subsequent lack of health insurance. 

However, the trades are rife with racism, toxic masculinity, and stagnant representation. For the restructure plans to succeed, the trades must address the toxic workplace culture to move the trades toward safety, inclusion, and not just cultural competence but cultural humility. Without safety, inclusion and humility, the restructure plan will further exacerbate the racialized inequality mirrored across America’s history and contemporary policies. ANEW and Reckoning Trade Project have an answer, and the compass to continue to guide. It starts with cultural humility.

At the Reckoning Trade Project, an organization committed to increasing representation and retention of LGBTQ trades workers, we recognize that the prospect of entering the trades for many LGBTQ folks is entirely too dangerous. We are working together with Apprenticeship & Nontraditional Employment for Women (ANEW) to address toxic workplace cultures in the trades.

By cultural humility we mean the self-awareness of personal and cultural biases, as well as awareness and sensitivity to significant cultural issues of others. The trades and unions have both facilitated social change and perpetrated injustice based on race and gender, and leadership in the trades and unions are majorly white, cisgendered men. The culture of the trades is entrenched in misogyny, racism, transphobia, and homophobia and does not provide for safety and inclusion and remains a dangerous and unappealing avenue for many nontraditional workers.

LGBTQ trades workers face increased rates of violence and discrimination in the trades. Worker complaints about harassment and bullying must be taken seriously, and perpetrators must be fired; there must be representation of LGBTQ trades workers in upper management, affinity groups to address ongoing harassment, and safe spaces for all LGBTQIA community members. Studies show that anywhere from 15% to 43% of queer people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment at the workplace. Moreover, a staggering 90% of transgender workers report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job. These workplace abuses pose a real and immediate threat to the economic security of gay and transgender workers.

For the trades to remain as relevant and critical, recognition of this history, and contemporary culture is required. Worker demographics are shifting, and the trades will have to adapt. In 2042, whites will be the minority, while currently over 9.5% of youths identify as LGBTQ. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects better-than-average employment in the building trades through 2026. Furthermore, the most in-demand skilled trade jobs are remaining unfilled the longest — due to a shortage of qualified workers. We need a new blueprint.

With Pride month rapidly approaching, before the flag raising, WE as all community members need to focus on calls to action safety, inclusion.

“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you.”

—Janet Mock

Apprenticeships & Nontraditional Employment for Women was founded in 1980. ANEW improves people’s lives by providing quality training, employment navigation and supportive services leading to successful family wage careers. 

RISE Up (Respect, Inclusion, Safety, and Equity in the Construction Trades) is a Respectful Workplace Campaign designed to shift the culture of construction to be more inclusive to a diverse workforce. This campaign is designed to be used by public entities, construction companies, apprenticeship training programs, unions and community-based organizations.

Reckoning Trade Project was founded in 2018 by a former auto mechanic, and a welder. The Reckoning Trade Project (RTP) works toward creating safer and more equitable workplaces and increasing job retention in the trades by building support systems, hosting educational forums, and organizing social events with a focus on LGBTQ+, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and other nontraditional trades workers.

ANEW and RTP are centering LGBTQ+ trade workers; we have created an affinity group specifically for LGBTQ+ trade workers. A first of its kind, this group creates a safe space for nontraditional trade workers across the trades to address workplace discrimination and violence and promote solidarity for those who are often isolated from other nontraditional trade workers and management. The affinity group will provide trade workers opportunities to engage, learn and develop policies and practices that can be implemented across the trades, and promote representation in leadership across the trades. Nontraditional trade workers need to be centered in the fight for equity and the restructure plan.

This is a call to action to the traditional trade workers who think that pronouns are just an option, who see us just as the alphabet people, who constantly jeopardize the safety of LGBTQ+ workers, and who fail to recognize their own privilege and complicity in the toxic trades culture. ANEW and RTP collaborate on workplace trainings around safety, inclusion, gender identity, and racism. Both organizations can be hired to provide trainings that address workplace harassment.

Morgan Mentzer (she/her) co-founded the Lavender Rights Project, a by-and-for legal services and community organizing nonprofit. As a lead attorney, Morgan specializes in employment law and family law focusing on intersections of gender identity and racism. Prior to pursuing a career in law, Morgan was an auto mechanic. Rooted in the trades, she is the co-founder of the Reckoning Trade Project, an organization committed to increasing representation and retention of QTIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) trades workers.

Deaunte Damper (moderator) born in Seattle, has focused his work on bringing HIV awareness and LGBTQ-affirming education to marginalized communities throughout the City of Seattle. This started through his nonprofit work at POCAAN as a peer navigator for the Department of Health. In April 2019, Damper made history as the NAACP’S first LGBTQIA chair, the first in 110 years of the organization. In October 2019, Damper began as a transitional specialist for the Washington State Department of Corrections. And as of November 2019, he is Rainier Beach High School’s Black Student Union advisor. He also started a support group for Young Men of Color, B.R.O.T.H.A (Blacks Recovering Overcoming Trauma Health and Awareness). Deaunte was recently named the incoming board chair for Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County as of 2021  Damper is currently working as the new apprenticeship navigator for ANEW.

📸 Featured image is attributed to Ivan Radic (under a Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0 license).

Before you move on to the next story …

The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With around 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible.

If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn’t have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference.

We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!

Leave a Reply