Ann Jones, 61, is the lead builder for Habitat for Humanity's Rainbow Build project. According to organizers, Rainbow Build is the first coalition in the country in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered organizations and their allies--38 in all--have come together to raise $60,000 and build a house for a needy family. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom home near Oracle Road and Glenn Street is due to be finished in July, about two months ahead of schedule. Jones is a board member of Wingspan, Southern Arizona's LGBT community center, as well as the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance. She also happens to be a transsexual who worked in the construction business for 30 years as a man before undergoing surgery in Thailand to become a woman. The project marks her first foray into home construction since her transition five years ago.
How's the construction coming?
The day that we had our opening ceremony for our initial wall-raising, we had, like, 150 people here. ... We're setting a new record for Habitat in how quickly they can build one of these, because we have such good volunteer support. I would have loved to have had crews like this when I was doing this for a living, because they're so eager to learn.
Have you met the eventual owners?
Shortly after we started, I got to work one afternoon all alone with the new owner of the house. He doesn't speak English, and I speak very little Spanish, so we had to do a lot of sign language. But he was just overwhelmed at the number of volunteers that we would get out and how devoted we were to building his house. And that day at the end, he was just walking around looking at the inside, (saying), "Mi casa, mi casa."
What's one thing about this experience that you've found personally satisfying?
To be able to go back and teach what are essentially novices all the little ins and outs of how to build. It's just such a joy for me to be able to do that.
Why did LGBT organizations and their allies get together to build this house?
To show the community that we're reaching out to you just the same way we'd like to see you reach out to us. We want to help this community be all it can be every bit as much as you do. We get to do something good for the community, and the community gets to see that we can be just like them.
Do you think the first-of-its-kind coalition that's building this house says something positive about Tucson?
I would like to think that Tucson is a very open and accepting community, but this is also the community where I was excommunicated from my church for being who I am. The only way that we can change views is to become more obvious in the community, to be able to come out and allow people to see us as who we really are.
Why haven't you built any houses in the past five years?
After I transitioned, I didn't think I would ever get back into doing this sort of thing again. For one reason--the medical reason--they cut me from here to here and took my intestines out. They didn't reattach the muscles, so it kind of limits my lifting. And the type of building that I did was always very much hands-on, and I was supervising people and working right with them. It made it much harder to do that. And ... being a woman running a crew of men creates some difficulties.
What was it like working in construction, a field that stereotypically places a premium on masculinity, when you had these feelings about your gender?
It was never something I could outwardly express. I couldn't wear makeup. I had a lot of facial hair, for one thing. There was no way I could pass as female no matter what I did.
How about after your transition?
The only issue that I had was ... going to some of the wholesale suppliers that I used to do business with. At the plumbing supply house that I dealt with, you'd go to the service counter, which is for professionals, and see homophobic comics on the back wall. For these people to have known me as a guy, and now see me coming in and expecting to be treated the same as I was before--it was very difficult. It was kind of a blessing that (my) transition was the beginning of my retirement from actively building.
How can people help with the Rainbow Build?
We are still seeking donations of both time and money if you'd like to help. Donations can be sent directly to Habitat for Humanity with a notation on there for the Rainbow Build project.