LGBTQ truckers talk embracing identity and finding community over thousands of miles

Uber’s Greg Murphy hosts a Pride panel for LGBTQ truckers.

Image: sasha lekach/mashable

Long-haul truck drivers already face plenty of dangers on the road, but if you also happen to be a gay couple or a trans woman emerging from the cab at a gas station or rest stop, these can potentially expand to discrimination, violence, and hate.

That’s why Shelle Lichti, a 25-year veteran of the trucking industry, created an online community for the disparate and wide-ranging truckers who identify as LGBTQ. 

Lichti was one of six panelists Uber Freight brought Thursday to its San Francisco offices to speak about driving, technology, and identity. When Lichti came out, she was told she was supposed to look like the assigned stereotype of a lesbian trucker: flannel shirts and combat boots. “It doesn’t matter your orientation to get the job done,” she said.

The truckers featured on the panel all work for different companies and don’t use Uber Freight themselves — it’s an app that works like Uber’s ride-hailing app, but connects truck companies to loads. But truckers like Ellie O’Daire, a trans woman, are anxious to incorporate more tech into the business — anything to “get paperwork out of trucking faster,” she said.

Married couple Ricky and Bobby Coffey-Loy truck between Boston and Los Angeles as a team.

Married couple Ricky and Bobby Coffey-Loy truck between Boston and Los Angeles as a team.

Image: uber

Married couple Ricky and Bobby Coffey-Loy drive 6,000 miles a week between Boston and Los Angeles as a team. They often feel singled out for being a husband-and-husband team, but they also relish the opportunity to work together and see the country with the “best office window.”

O’Daire said she’s encountered problems on the road at truck stops and rest areas, and she still keeps track of gender neutral bathrooms throughout her routes, just to be safe. But overall, she says, “Everyone’s focused on driving their own equipment.” 

Anne Balay, a one-time commercial trucker herself and author of the forthcoming book, Semi Queer: Inside the World Gay, Trans, and Black Truck Drivers, pointed out that trucking is hard on trans women in particular, with high incidents of assault and violence. “Being a queer trucker, you’re living with a lot of fear all the time,” she noted.

“Being a queer trucker, you’re living with a lot of fear all the time.”

For Keaira Finlay, trucking has been more about opportunity. With a consistent source of income, trucking allows her to see the country, and be as far or close to family as she wants. She also won’t ever forget the dead boar carcasses she once hauled from Texas to North Dakota — or the stench. 

Lichti also sees trucking as a good fit for anyone struggling with their identity. “Trucking gives them an opportunity to explore their inner selves,” with hours and hours to think, she said.

“The miles can be so loud,” Bobby Coffey-Loy said. That’s where the social media group Lichti started comes in, serving as a support network. 

And it’s there, on Facebook, that the independent, often loner truckers can come together (the group now has about 4,000 members), and even post about visiting San Francisco and Uber for Pride celebrations.

Life doesn’t have to feel so isolated on the road after all.

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