As a queer woman in the auto repair business, mechanic Rima Moon is all too familiar with being overlooked due to sexism.

“I’ll be working on a car and people will come in and be like, is there a mechanic on duty?” she said. “If you walk into any garage, the chances of you finding a woman working there is very, very, very, few and far between.”

Changing the perception of who belongs in the trades is part of the reason Moon, Morgan Mentzer and MJ Montgomery opened their Tacoma auto repair shop, Camellia’s Automotive

The shop was born out of life and business partners Mentzer and Montgomery’s garage in 2021, but in May, the three co-owners decided to take the plunge and open their own commercial space in South Tacoma.

All three have years as mechanics in the automotive industry, and firsthand experience being the only woman, trans or queer person in their workplaces or classes.

Changing the isolating experience of being the “only one” in a trade is also why Mentzer co-founded the Reckoning Trade Project in 2018, an organization “dedicated to widening employment opportunities in the skilled trades for women, communities of color, and LGBTQIA+ workers.” The group offers trainings for employers, provides resources for nontraditional tradespeople and hosts an LBGTQ+ virtual monthly meetup for workers to support each other.

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The trades can be a place of “economic justice [and] educational justice,” Mentzer said. But “LGBTQ folks in the trades are often not out because it’s not safe,” she said. “They get pushed out, they get violent discrimination, and the more subtle discrimination.” The meetups offer LGBTQ+ workers a place to go to get the support they might be missing in their work environments as well as to become mentors and resources for each other. 

Podcast

‘Wrenching’

To listen to a podcast on cars, mechanics and trades from Camellia’s Automotive Repair Shop and Reckoning Trade Project, go to wrenching.buzzsprout.com.

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Each June we see a blitz of Pride marketing often depicting young, cisgender gay men living their best carefree lives, but that picture obscures the reality for many LGBTQ+ people.

About 38% of LGBT workers reported they experienced harassment at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a May 2021 survey by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. About 50% of LGBTQ+ workers are not out to their current supervisors at work. Transgender and LGBTQ+ workers of color fared even worse, with higher rates of being fired or not hired due to their identity, the survey reported.

Montgomery, a transgender man with 25 years in the automotive industry, said he experienced firsthand the physical violence of being nearly pushed into an oil pit at one of his previous jobs, not to mention the casual misogyny of cisgender-male-dominated workplace cultures like auto repair.

A lot of shops are “stuck in the Dark Ages,” Montgomery said, and still have pictures of naked women on calendars hanging on the walls. 

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Moon recalled a transgender classmate in her automotive studies program who was tormented by others in the class to the point of quitting after just one quarter.

But things are slowly starting to change. In the Puget Sound region, Camellia’s joins other queer-owned automotive shops such as the longtime Repair Revolution in Sodo, which just won the GSBA (LGBTQ+ chamber of commerce) 2022 Business of the Year award, and Mosé Auto, a queer Latina-owned shop in Georgetown. 

In addition to supporting the growth of queer-owned businesses in the trades, Mentzer said, in order for a larger cultural shift to occur all businesses need to look at how they ensure their workplaces are safe and welcoming for queer, gender-diverse workers and workers of color.

When businesses diversify their leadership and have queer and BIPOC forepeople and managers, it helps to create more potential for accountability for workers who come forward with their experiences of discrimination.

“If we can have folks that rise to management level and can say no, actually being misgendered is not tolerated, it is discrimination, we’re not going to allow it, those jokes are not going to be OK. That’s what we’re really working at,” she said.

For Moon, Montgomery and Mentzer, owning their own business and doing what they love is freedom and joy. But in the process, they are also showing future generations that their options are broader than they might imagine.

“Existing in the trades is a real act of power,” Mentzer said. “Just being is an act of power, even if you’re not out, even if you just survive each day, you’re there. … You’re not continuing the misogyny and transphobia. And all of that is a shift of the trades.”