Recently, Jackie Richter made history as the first transgender person in Illinois to qualify for a Female Business Enterprise (FBE) certification and a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certification.
With these certifications, Richter's construction company, Heels and Hardhats Contracting Corporation, can bid on contracts to do work for the Illinois Department of Transportation, the City of Chicago, CTA, Metra and Pace.
The company is 100-percent female-owned and focuses on excavating, landscaping and specialty concrete. Her wife Cyndi shares ownership in the company although Richter has a controlling interest in the corporation.
Richter began her construction career in 1975 while still in high school. She is the third generation in a business that dates back to cutting ice in Crystal Lake, custom coal crushing in Chicago and building airports during World War Two. She stepped back from construction work for a couple of decades to raise her family with her wife. It was then that she began marketing and exporting construction equipment globally.
Following her transition, Richter realized that she was stuck in an industry that wasn't friendly to transgender people. Richter said she was blessed to have Christy Webber hire her as a woman working for her firm. From there she began to come out in the construction industry. During this time she also researched how to become certified as an FBE/DBE company.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, a DBE is a certification that allows for-profit small business where socially and economically disadvantaged individuals own at least a 51 percent interest and also control management and daily business operations to participate in DBE programs as outlined by individual states.
African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific and Subcontinent Asian Americans, women and persons with disabilities are presumed to be socially and economically disadvantaged. Other individuals can also qualify as socially and economically disadvantaged on a case-by-case basis.
Rick Garcia, senior policy advisor at The Civil Rights Agenda, was one of the people who helped Richter during her application process. He expressed his excitement that Richter got her certification and said "this is a great opportunity for transgender people to access the same benefits that others have. It is precedent-setting, the correct decision by the state of Illinois and it will give the opportunity for transgender business owners to pursue a similar thing for their businesses."
Richter explained that the certification process was lengthy and after a year-long research and investigation process by the state the determination was made that she met the rules and requirements for certification. She also had documents that proved she was a female.
"This certification is a pathway for progress for the transgender community," said Richter. "It opens doors for a multitude of business programs designed for women, especially older transgender women who face discrimination in the workplace. This gives people who are skilled and driven the resources to build their own occupation and business. It is not just a certification of a business, but a certification of identity, equality and diversity in all forms of government for a community that has been driven away from prosperity based on a birth defect."