When I heard a report on the radio about growing diversity in the trucking industry, especially a lot more LGBTQ people driving trucks, I was surprised. I thought the trucking industry already was pretty diverse. My first job out of college was at a call center that served truck drivers and most of the guys I worked with there were gay.
I can’t say why exactly but I have a guess. It was 1993 and it was a very different time. For one thing there was no LinkedIn or other job sites because there was no internet as we know it. It was also ten years before the Supreme Court would strike down Texas’s sodomy law. Homosexuality was, technically, still a crime in Tennessee. Pride marches happened in Nashville but they were small single day events, outnumbered by anti-gay protesters. AIDS was still a major crisis. The number of out gay men was small enough that a lot of them knew each other—the places where they could be out and meet each other was limited. If a business hired one of them word would get around. But let me be clear: the number of LGBTQ people in Nashville, or anywhere else, probably hasn’t changed in the last thirty years. What’s changed is more are willing to be out.
It was also a small company and always hiring. I was offered a job there without an interview—the person who hired me spent about fifteen minutes showing me around and telling me what they did then said, “So, do you think you’d like to work here?” I started the next day.
I got to know the guys I worked with pretty quickly. We all sat next to each other waiting for our phones to ring. Sometimes it was busy but there could also be long stretches when we had nothing to do but talk. I’d bring a book but we weren’t allowed to read. None of the guys came out to me, really, but one Friday the guy next to me, Steve, told me he was going to a bar called The Jungle after work.
“Oh,” I laughed, “I’ve heard of that place. Well, I hope you have fun.”
I think from that word got around that I wasn’t gay but I was cool, because other guys started telling me about their weekend plans, even their boyfriends. One Saturday night my wife and I went to see the play Nunsense. We sat a few seats away from Steve and his partner and talked to them during intermission.
I never got to know any of the truck drivers, although I did talk to some of them multiple times. The same was true of dispatchers and even some spouses—one of the things we handled was paychecks. Aside from learning that two different drivers with different companies were also anthropology professors I don’t know how diverse they were.
I only worked there for three months. Two weeks before I left, after I’d already handed in my resignation, a new guy, Michael, was hired. He was close to my age and the boss said to me, “Make him your replacement.”
We spent every day doing intensive training and we also went to lunch and got to know each other. It took a while because he was really shy and didn’t talk much to anyone. The first time he took a call I had to jump in and take over. He froze and couldn’t say a word.
A few days before I left we were having lunch alone together and he said, “Do you think it’s a problem that I’m gay?”
I wasn’t really expecting that—I hadn’t even thought he might be since he hadn’t said anything before to even suggest it, but, after I swallowed a bite of leftover pizza, I said, “I’m pretty sure you’ll be fine.”
The company folded about six months after I left. I didn’t stay in touch with anyone I’d worked with which I regret but a lot of things in my life were changing at the time. And, eventually, for guys like Michael, I think things would get better.