A new group is looking to create a safe space for members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community in the infrastructure and construction sectors and, at the same time, create needed change when it comes to diversity and inclusivity.
“There hasn’t been a lot of queer focused inclusion in infrastructure as a whole,” Kait Tyschenko, founder of the Queer Infrastructure Network (QUIN), recently told the Daily Commercial News.
“There are really great corporations that are doing it kind of in silos but the sad reality is that a lot of people in our industry very much live life in the closet. There’s tons of different reasons for that, but the main thing is not to focus on those reasons but to try and create a space for people to feel safe.”
QUIN is community-led networking and advocacy group focused on connecting and elevating 2SLGBTQ+ people in the infrastructure sector.
As one of the first openly trans people in the industry in Canada, there have been times where Tyschenko has not felt safe.
“We need that protected space, a space to just be with community and also a space for advocacy. A space to push the needle forward and have that external pressure on companies to say, ‘OK here’s where we should be and here’s how we should be engaging our employees and how we can engage and retain our queer and trans employees,’” they said.
The idea was born in late 2019 and early 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning. Initially, Tyschenko was able to connect with people through social media.
“I didn’t have any connections in the infrastructure sector of people who were part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, other than a couple of friends who I had come out to and people who had come out to me,” Tyschenko explained. “I just posted on LinkedIn and said ‘Hey, I’m here, are you also queer? Let’s do something.’ And that’s how we created it.”
They decided to hold off on gathering for an in-person event until it was safe to do so. It will be held June 9, during Pride Week, at the Glad Day Book Shop on Church Street in Toronto.
“The people around the table know we don’t represent every part of it (the community) and we all have blind spots,” Tyschenko said. “It’s really important to have a launch event to bring people together and to say: ‘Community, what do you want and what do you need and how do we go about it together?’
“The launch event is for our community members and our allies to come and celebrate Pride, celebrate QUIN and help us co-create QUIN together.”
The group has three pillars: advocacy, community and connections.
It wants to raise awareness about inclusive parental leaves and include gender affirming procedures in insurance policies. Community and connections are also key.
“We want to try and create those benefits of a networking group and connecting more established professionals with younger professionals,” Tyschenko said.
The community is present in the industry but is pretty silent, they said, adding some parts of the industry can feel like an old boys’ club.
“There just hasn’t been a lot of acceptance and opportunities to learn from each other and grow,” Tyschenko said. “Letting people know that we are here and we are part of this industry and there is actually a lot of us in this industry. In some sectors we’re more represented than others and some sectors are a bit safer than others for people to be out and queer or trans.”
Tyschenko is trans, non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. They have been part of the industry since 2018 and are currently a project manager at Pomerleau. They have experienced the industry from a variety of perspectives: not being out, being out and coming into being a non-binary trans person.
One of the challenges Tyschenko has encountered is navigating through name and pronoun changes. It requires an employer to make logistical and HR changes, they said.
“It just comes down to policy and education,” Tyschenko explained. “In my case, I changed my name and I’m using different pronouns. So how do you make it easier on that person because it’s already stressful enough?
“That’s the goal as part of the advocacy arm of the group to say, ‘hey companies, you don’t have to do this all on your own. We’re trying to build resources to give you roadmaps to make it easier when your employees come out.’”
Change is uncomfortable and hard but also necessary, they said.
“We need to have difficult conversations about the systems and structures that we have built in this industry and how we change them or dismantle them to make the industry more inclusive,” Tyschenko said. “It’s for people to know that they belong and are respected and loved and wanted in the industry.”
For more information visit www.queerinfrastructurenetwork.com.
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.