LGBT in sight, on site: coming out in construction
During LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual trans) History Month, we find out what it’s really like to come out in the construction industry. Pioneer and activist, Christina Riley, Senior Planner at Kier Group, talks to us about her experiences.
The theme of this year’s LGBT History Month is peace, activism and reconciliation, which will be explored through our 3-part mini-series.
With more than 25 years working in construction, Christina Riley’s personal journey has touched all three.
“When I first went into construction, it was a male-dominated place. It still is – but things have come a long way. Back then it was not at all welcoming for LGBT people,” she says.
After graduating in 1993, she came to realise that she felt happier and more comfortable identifying as a woman. But keeping her feelings secret was a terrible burden.
I couldn’t tell anyone because I was scared of being rejected. I was in a really bad place.
“As time went on, I realised more and more that I wanted to live in the female gender. But I couldn’t tell anyone, especially at work, because I was scared of being rejected and laughed at.”
“For around 15 years, I bottled it all up. I hid myself away at work, getting more stressed and anxious. I had panic attacks and each time, the panic fed more panic. I was in a really bad place.”
“It all changed for me when one day I saw an advert in the office reception about an LGBT+ network meeting,” Christina says.
At the time, she was at Balfour Beatty, which had just launched one of the first LGBT networks in the construction industry.
“There were really high-ranking people there, showing there was real support. The meeting created a genuine safe space – and it gave me a new confidence”.
“I immediately knew I wanted to transition while at work. That’s unusual. Many people who transition change jobs for a fresh start.”
“But once I came out to my colleagues, it gave me the freedom to progress my gender reassignment and transition with the NHS. Coming out was the best thing I ever did.”
“The anxiety and panic attacks disappeared. I felt happier and healthier than I’d ever been. The problems and banter I was expecting to face never materialised. At last I was at peace with myself.”
Look out for LGBT in sight, on site: Activism, the next part in our LGBT mini-series.
Coming out at work was the best thing I ever did.
Christina says it’s easier than ever to get support in the sector.
“Come along to LGBT+ network events, because there’s plenty going on and they’re safe spaces for LGBT people in our industry. Certain trades and professions have their own groups too, like InterEngineering for engineers. There’s lots of advice out there and lots of people who can provide support.”