We are delighted to share our latest Inspirational Role Model Hotspot with you.
Antonia Belcher is a founding partner of Building Consultancy, MHBC, and has over 40 years of experience in the construction and property sector. Since her transition in 2000, she has been dedicated to the promotion of diversity in the workplace and is a driving force and champion for LGBTQ issues.
We are honoured to welcome her as a LBTQWomen Inspirational Role Model and hope you enjoy her IRM hot spot answers below:
Describe your role in one sentence
I lead and steer a business which is active in the procurement and handling of building contract work on both refurbishment and new build construction projects, and personally undertake the Development Manager, Project Manager and/or Designer/Contract Administrator roles in same.
What has been the highlight of your career?
Without a doubt, being able to work as the woman I know I am, which was only possible when I reached my late-40s and I transitioned between 2000 to 2005.
Who or what has been your main inspiration in your career?
I have had no real inspiring people to look up to, particularly in connection with my transition, since the firm which I joined from school and stayed with until I transitioned had no LGBT influences at all. I had to come out in a place of work which was very conventional and male dominated. I have always wanted to work in the construction/property industries ever since helping my father, who was a builder, when I was that young “boy”.
How, when and why did you ‘come out’ at work?
I started my transition at work before I transitioned at home, which was not easy. But to understand the circumstances behind this, I would need to tell you my entire journey, working to be the woman you now know. Transitioning at work ahead of transitioning at home was the easier option for me, and one that did not challenge my wife so much, who I was hoping would potentially accept me as a female friend, if not a female partner. For me, it was easier to come out at work and isolate that part of my life so as not to threaten my wife and three children whilst I was transitioning. I was in unique circumstances to be able to do that, but it was still a challenge and there were no guarantees that adopting such a route would enable me to remain with my wife and my children firmly ensconced in my family life I enjoyed pre-transition, and I do now, post-transition.
What advice would you give to the younger you?
Trust your instincts to a better level and ‘dream with more clarity’.
What are the five words that best describe you?
Persistent, detailed, resilient, ambitious and optimistic.
What are your favourite pastimes when you aren’t working?
Outside of spending time with my family, I would say skiing, gardening, travelling and motorsport, in no particular order.
What would you like to be if you didn’t do what you currently do?
A role where I was Head Gardener to the Queen or some fabulous estate.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
What is your favourite holiday place – and why?
30 years ago, I bought an old, run down vicarage in Normandy, France. The timing of this purchase aligned with my father retiring from his building company. For nearly 10 to 15 years, he and I would spend time at this property undertaking repairs and restoration and, through that period, I learned more about my father and his family and heritage than I’d ever known before. It was wonderful to be able to restore this lovely property with my Dad and to learn more about him. Unfortunately, he died shortly after completing the property and having it in habitable condition. Now the property is used by my family for our holidays and it is a wonderful location. The memories of the time spent with my father are, of course, personal for me but they make the place very special.
Do you have a pet – if so, what’s their name and why?
Andrea and I had a West Highland Terrier who we called Riley. Unfortunately, he died a year ago, having made the grand age of 13 when we were told that he would probably not make old bones because he had some birth issues. He was a tough little cookie, and we called him Riley because we intended to give him “the life of Riley”. And that we did.
Do you like to live in the countryside or are you an urban person?
I adore London because it has enabled me to be the person I am and I have learned my professional craft in London, alongside some fabulous people and that craft has given me a good living. However, I am a country person and I adore being in the country. It is for that reason that, had I not gone to London to learn my craft, I probably would have sought a career more in the countryside because I love being outside.
Which charities do you support and why?
In my spare time, I am a Board Director at, and supporter of, a number of charities, including Diversity Role Models, the Terrence Higgins Trust and the Chartered Surveyors’ Training Trust. At the latter, I have been a Trusteefor in excess of 12 years now and we work to provide employment-based training for young people (often from disadvantaged backgrounds) who hope to qualify as Chartered Surveyors. In addition to this, last year I linked up with GiveOut to set up my own fund where I raise money to support trans activism globally. The fund is called “The Antonia and Andrea Belcher Trans Fund” and we have been giving small grants to support those activists and their organisations working across the world to improve the lives of trans people. This is a brand new fund which is managed by the LGBTQI charity GiveOut and our aim is to bring new resources into the trans movement. We are collectively ambitious to grow the fund.
To be the true me, I have had a lot of luck and an accepting and loving family and workplace, but I know only too well that for many others this is not the case. If I can help one soul to be free and true with this fund, then I will be the proudest transgender woman alive. As we know, across the world trans people suffer widespread human rights violations. From discrimination and a lack of legal recognition or status, to violence and killings. Trans people are facing appalling abuses based on their gender identity and expression.
The story of your journey from Anthony to Antonia is so inspiring. Have you got any advice for anyone else that might be reading this and considering the same journey?
Trans people will generally analyse every if, but, and why behind a decision to start transition and when they embark on that process, they have often spent years challenging themselves to do so. It is natural once a decision is made to want to progress as quickly as possible. However, the issue for family and friends and those that a trans person would wish to keep throughout their transition as friends and family, needs to be carefully considered. With friends and family, everything is new and, in a way, they have to contribute to the transition and cannot sit on the sidelines. Therefore, it is important to recognise that patience is needed and that a trans person needs to take their friends and family with them on their journey so they share the ups and downs. Me, I realised that I needed to Project Manage my transition and I needed a plan behind it. To a degree, I segregated it from work and home and was able to treat the two parts in different ways.
My advice very much to anyone transitioning is to plan it and to take it slowly and carefully with friends and family if you want to keep them in your lives.
You have mentioned how supportive your colleagues were at the time of your transition. How did you find individuals in the wider industry reacted?
My closest colleagues at work were supportive, but not all. Many were indifferent. For my journey, there were no business responses to what I was doing – I was only getting responses from those individuals who clearly cared for me. What was interesting for me was that, in the wider industry, many were interested in what I was doing but I was slow to reach out to them and, if I was transitioning now and as advice to anyone who is, I would say do reach out to everyone you know. They are interested and they want to know how to help you and how to work with you. Many of my clients, post-my transition, said to me very simply that they did not come to me for the business I prosecuted because of the way I looked – they came to me and sought my help because of my brain.
What issues/initiatives – generally, professionally, personally – are currently top of your agenda?
Professionally at work, I like to think that I am on top of most things that I need to be handling business-wise. My business is at an interesting point, in that along with my two other owners, we sold the business we started in 2007 to a Top 10 USA-based Cost and Construction Management Business called Cummings. We are now part of a global operation with very wide reach, numbering around 750 professionals doing the same work that I do. This opens up many opportunities which we are only just beginning to explore.
From a personal perspective, I have one item which is very much at the top of my agenda. This is – how can I improve the transgender world on a global stage? I want to do more within the UK but make it so that it has a global focus and therefore helps the work of my fund. Unfortunately, the engagement I am getting from other people who might be prepared to help a trans cause is quite muted. I find this surprising, given that many LGBT-friendly organisations want to assist and say they want to help the ‘T’ part. After much canvassing I find that it is, unfortunately, no more than talk rather than wanting to ‘walk the walk’.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the LGBT+ community and what do you think needs to happen?
I think the challenge that is appearing (unfortunately) most apparent is the political rhetoric which is wanting to divide societies and possibly promote hate. We see things with Mr Trump and how he approaches the issue of transgender clearly on the basis that he does not understand it at all well and wants to “create fake news” himself around the subject. The problem, as I see it, is that we do not counter this in a resolute and structured way and, as a trans person wanting to have a wider trans voice, I cannot get the engagement to make that voice loud and understood.
What do you see as the single biggest challenge that you (and/or your team) face in 2019?
I think the single biggest challenge centres around my answer above.
You describe yourself as a Humanist. Can you define this and explain why this is so important to you?
I call myself a Humanist because I was born a Catholic, but I cannot align with much of what the Catholic faith believes because I am transgender. My father was Agnostic, but he had a simple creed which was “do unto others as you wish done unto yourself”. I follow the same creed.
On your Twitter profile, you mention being a voracious biscuit eater! PLEASE elaborate?!
One biscuit with a cup of tea is not enough for me, and generally Andrea at some point is telling me that I have had enough biscuits!