Newham gay builder wants his firm to knock a hole in prejudice
09:09 10 April 2014
Builder Ray Bulloch had the last laugh when his LGBT building business became a roaring success, after facing homophobia in the industry for more than 30 years. Janine Rasiah spoke to him about his journey and found out more about Newham’s provision for the LGBT community
With his bright pink van, there’s no missing Newham builder Ray Bulloch, who owns the country’s first gay building company.
But he wasn’t always so brazen about his sexuality. Ray faced three decades of homophobic abuse as a contractor and almost left the profession at one point because he felt so low.
It was only after a colleague sabotaged a gay client’s home that he decided to set up R&G LGBT Builders 13 years ago.
After forcing the culprit to repair the damage, Ray refused to let him in his van.
“I said to him, ‘Only gay people are allowed in my van’, and left him by the side of the road,” he said. “I received a call from my boss and he said, ‘Let’s forget about it’, but I just quit.
“It was a split-second decision and I didn’t have a penny in my pocket, but it all started from there.”
Even after deciding to start his own business, Ray, 49, faced homophobia. His business partner pulled out when he found out that Ray was gay as he “did not want him around his children”.
Undeterred – and with the support of his long-term partner, Michael, who works as a dresser in the West End show Billy Elliot the Musical – Ray began advertising on gay websites. The phone started ringing and hasn’t stopped.
“I’ve worked for straight people and gay people,” he said. “And women love us because they know they are not going to be ripped off and let down.”
Yet the hardest part is recruiting workers as many people are concerned about the stigma attached to working for a gay company.
Ray is as open as he can be, last year becoming the first builder to take part in the Pride London parade – and he will appear again this year with his newly repainted bright pink van.
“It was a very big decision, as it used to have the rainbow flag, but I decided that it wasn’t enough,” Ray said. “Some people can’t believe that I had the courage to get my van repainted, but it is a real talking point.”
He says that he always knew that he was gay, but growing up in a Catholic family made it hard for him to accept his sexuality, with his parents telling him that he would “get over it”.
He married and his wife, Rica, who was bisexual, helped him come to terms with his sexual orientation, but she died six years after they wed, having contracted HIV from a blood transfusion after a car accident.
“I tried to lie to myself, but when I met my wife I actually realised that I was a little bit different and when I was with her I could be myself,” Ray, a father of one, remembers. “We had good thing and when I found out she was dying it broke my heart, because I never thought that I would ever have someone like her in my life.”
He now finds more acceptance of gays and has seen attitudes change since moving to the borough some 15 years ago, but he still believes builders are stereotypically seen as macho men.
“You can’t work for someone as a builder and come out, even now,” Ray said. “The construction industry is a bubble of its own, but I want to people to be able to come to work and be themselves while doing a professional job.”