Transgender carpenter hoping to build safer workplaces for queer tradies

 For Wollongong carpenter Jimmy Rizk, being transgender has never really been a talking point on a job site. 

Following his transition about seven years ago, he has grown a full beard, developed gym-built muscles, and now appears just as masculine as his male colleagues at work.

It has given him an unfiltered insight into the transphobia and homophobia that exists within trades industries.

"It never really crops up for me because I'm not visibly trans, so other tradies make comments because they think I'm one of them and part of the boys' club," Mr Rizk said.

"It puts me on edge because I don't want to out myself because after spending time with some of these people, I see what their attitude is towards trans and queer people.

A laughing man holds some white flowers and laughs, wearing a green cap and orange and grey t-shirt.
Jimmy Rizk says many queer people are reluctant to try a trade career due to fear of persecution.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

'You worry you won't be safe'

After initially studying and pursuing a career in performing arts, Mr Rizk, a talented musician, and singer changed tack and gravitated towards a career as a carpenter several years after transitioning.

It meant that by the time he became a tradie, no one suspected he might be transgender, but he said being part of the LGBTQI community could still be a barrier to pursuing a trade career for many.

"I have a lesbian friend that's going to shadow me on a job soon and she had reservations about being a female in a male-dominated career and being gay because if you don't know what an employer's attitudes are, you worry you won't be safe," Mr Rizk said.

"We need to create a culture where everybody feels safe to try it out because you never know what career path will mesh well with the kind of person you are."

A young, bearded man stands outside with his arms folded wearing a green cap and orange and grey t-shirt.
Jimmy Rizk says asking people what pronouns they prefer is a good place to start if a tradie suspects a client is transgender.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

'Be respectful in clients' homes'

For members of the LGBTQI community, the home is a particularly important place.

It is somewhere they can feel safe in their own identity and can live life on their terms.

"Your home is your safe space, so if you take that and apply it to trans and queer people, sometimes they're not getting that validation of who they are anywhere else, so if people come into their home and don't respect that, that's going to hit hard," he said. For that reason, Mr. Rizk said having tradespeople visit the house for work could cause anxiety.

"I really want to try and help change that."

He said that shift needs to start with tradies cutting out sexist or homophobic jokes while at clients' homes, and becoming more aware of gender identity.

"Misgendering someone is easy to do, but it doesn't take too much effort to ask people, especially if you have a feeling about it," he said. 
That can mean asking a client what their pronouns are, especially if a tradie suspects they might be LGBTQI.

"I don't like this idea where people rock up and you treat a client like a number and take the humanity out of it.

"You need to be respectful of people, especially in their home."

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