If you’re a regular reader of the Trucker Tools blog, you know we love talking to truckers from all over the country. We recently had the good fortune to speak with Bobby Coffey-Loy, CEO and founder of the LGBTQ+ Truck Driver Network, and Jess Orton, the group’s social media director. Both Bobby and Jess are company drivers based out of Kentucky. Bobby and his husband, Ricky, earned their CDLs six and a half years ago and have been OTR company drivers since. They got into trucking because their previous jobs kept them away from home all the time and their relationship suffered as a result.
“I really feel that trucking saved our marriage,” Bobby said. “It brought us closer together. We team drive, which isn’t for everybody. You have to be able to live in a very, very small space with your spouse. We have our moments, but most of the time it’s good.”
Check out these highlights from our conversation with Bobby and Jess.
Bobby and his husband haul pharmaceuticals for Cliffside Transportation all over the East Coast and into Texas and Minnesota. Jess hauls commercial truck parts on a dedicated regional route through Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia for Bendix at First Best Logistics. Both employers are part of LGBTQ+ TDN’s vetted companies network. Both Bobby and Jess currently use or have previously used the Trucker Tools driver app on the road and count it among their favorites.
“I’m always looking at the weather and I use the Trucker Tools app for that,” Bobby said. “I was actually just looking at the app. I use it for the routing and fuel optimizer and some of the other tools. I always tell new drivers to download it because of the axle weight calculator. Calculating axle weights is a pain when you’re a new driver. Having those little tools like the axle calculator, the routing and fuel optimizer, and the truck stop guide really helps. The owner of the company I drive for actually likes us to use the app because it helps us get the best rates on fuel. It’s just easier when you can pull up one app to get what you need instead of opening multiple apps.”
Now that he’s running a dedicated regional route and knows where he’s going every day, Jess doesn’t use the app as much as he used to. In the past, he’s used the app to find and track loads, and to calculate axle weights. Jess has used the app for four or five years now. He likes the app so much that he introduced his former boss to it.
Bobby and his husband started LGBTQ+ Truck Driver Network in 2019 after they finished trucking school. Today, LGBTQ+ TDN operates a Facebook group for LGBTQ+ people and allies, and interviews industry leaders and other folks in trucking on its weekly Big Gay Trucker podcast. LGBTQ+ TDN also hosts events, maintains a presence at industry trade shows and events, and promotes mental health awareness for truckers.
“My dad was a driver and his dad was a driver but when you think of trucking you don’t instantly think of anybody being LGBTQ+, so I wanted to change that,” Bobby said. “We wanted to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ drivers to share information and communicate with each other. It’s grown so much since then. We recently have been invited to a White House-sponsored summit on diversity and inclusion that includes a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, which we’re excited about. I feel like we’ve broken some barriers. When we went to the Mid-America Trucking Show two years ago, we were the very first LGBTQ+ non-profit organization to join the show in its 50 year history.”
LGBTQ+ TDN continues its mission of providing a safe space for LGBTQ+ folks to chat and connect. The group partners with driver-focused suicide hotlines to offer truckers mental health support on and off the road in addition to offering a driver memorial program that honors truckers who’ve lost their lives on the road.
“Nine drivers die each day and more than 3,200 drivers die each year,” Bobby said. “We just want to give visibility to drivers and support them. We have a small team but we’re trying to make a difference and I feel that we are. All it takes is just one social media post or one article to help people understand that we’re doing the same job as everybody else. We’re just trying to put a face on the trucker who is behind the wheel.”
The isolation of trucking has a direct impact on trucker mental health, which is why the transportation industry has the fourth-highest suicide rate among American working-age adults. According to Jess, he’s living proof of the powerful support that LGBTQ+ TDN offers truckers.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for this organization,” Jess said. “I discovered the Facebook group through a mutual friend. At one point in time, I was in a dark place in my head and everyone in the group rallied around me. They made sure to check in on me and helped me get what I needed in terms of support. I also let my physical health go at one point and wasn’t getting out of the truck enough. I texted pictures of my swollen legs to Bobby and he sent two people from the group to my truck to take me to the ER. It turned out that I had a really bad infection and the ER doctor told me if I had waited any longer to go to the hospital, that I might have died. The group consistently makes sure that if anyone is having a hard time, that they get the help they need. We use the app Life 360 to see where everyone is and if we haven’t heard from anyone in a few days, we’ll reach out. We want to make sure everyone is okay.”
“I worked in nursing for 16 years and always loved interacting with people and getting to know them,” Bobby shared. “That’s what our group is about: community. We have little cookouts at our house and anybody can come by that weekend. It’s just so hard being on the road sometimes. Giving people a sense of community and family is really what the network’s all about.”
To learn more about LGBTQ+ Truck Driver Network, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/lgbtqtruckdrivernetwork.