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Charlie Martin: "The support of allies has been a game changer"

Sarah Tooze heycar honestjohn.co.uk

Written By Sarah Tooze

Racing driver Charlie Martin sat by the side of her Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo Evo2.

Photo credit: Jamey Price Photo

The first openly transgender racing car driver, Charlie Martin, who heycar has supported since 2021, shares what allyship means to her and what individuals and businesses can do to be a good ally to transgender and non-binary people.

Charlie Martin says there are three things you should never ask a trans person: ‘tell me about your surgery’, ‘what did your name used to be?’ and ‘can I see a photo of what you used to look like?’ 

“These are pretty obvious questions that would be offensive to somebody and yet even 10 years on [from transitioning], I still get asked these questions from time to time,” Charlie says. 

At the other end of the scale are people who are afraid to engage because they feel awkward or are worried about saying something offensive. 

That presents a different problem because “we learn by connecting with people and if no one ever connects nothing moves forward”, Charlie says. 

The solution - and the best way to be an ally to a trans person - is to “be normal”. 

“Just because someone is trans doesn’t mean you have to interact with them in a different way,” Charlie says. 

Charlie Martin racing driver
Photo credit: Jamey Price Photo

Creating allyship in motorsport

Charlie began transitioning in January 2012 and first walked back into the racing paddock at Prescott Hillclimb in September that year. 

It was a moment which she describes as one of the scariest things she’s ever had to do in her life but the fact that a group of her friends were normal with her made the difference. 

“I was walking back into a sea of blank faces - people were staring at me not knowing necessarily even that it was me and just wondering ‘why is there a trans person here in the race paddock?’” she recalls. 

“About seven or eight of my closest friends who knew that I was coming that day came over and gave me a big hug, and that just really helped me get through that experience.

“The love I felt from that gesture was a really, really profound thing. It was really genuine. And, to this day, I don't know if they fully appreciate the impact that had on me because if they hadn't done that I wouldn't have gone back racing the next spring. And I wouldn't have done any of the things that have happened since.”

Charlie's achievements since include being the first transgender person to compete in the Nürburgring 24 Hour race, being an ambassador for Europe’s largest LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall and inspiring drivers competing in the British GT Championship in 2018 to have rainbow stickers on their cars at the race at Silverstone to mark Pride month. 

The latter was Charlie’s “first attempt to try to really create some allyship in motorsport”.

More recently, teammate Cam Aliabadi has proved to be a “really good ally”. 

“I was stood on the podium and unbeknown to me some guys in the crowd were saying horrible things. Cam was stood in front of them and he turned round and gave them a piece of his mind,” Charlie says. 

When Cam told her about the incident later she found it "heartwarming" that he'd been prepared to defend her when she'd only known him a short time.  

Racing drivers Jason Gagne-Keats and Charlie Martin on the podium, holding trophies
Charlie Martin and teammate Jason Gagne-Keats celebrate first Lamborghini Super Trofeo class win. Photo by Jamey Price Photo

Allyship in the workplace 

Being a “visible” ally like that can equally apply in an ordinary office environment. 

Charlie urges people to be proud to be an ally in their organisation.

“Stand up for people, be visible, be part of that effort to try and help create more of an inclusive environment, because people will see you doing this and people will take the lead from you,” she says. 

But being able to stand up for trans people starts with education. 

“If you understand an issue you’re so much more likely to stand up in defence of somebody,” Charlie says. 

“We need more people to feel like they’ve educated themselves to a level they feel comfortable being an ally,” she says. 

A crowd of people with flags celebrating Brighton Pride
Photo credit: Marius_Comanescu/Shutterstock.com

The first step, Charlie suggests, is going to a local Pride event to meet people and “normalise your understanding of what it means to be transgender, non-binary, genderqueer”. 

“We read and we see so much negativity, so many things in the media which are really misleading.  And the best thing you can do is just talk to real trans people and understand the real issues that people are facing out in the world,” she says. 

The next thing is to share what you’ve learnt in conversations you have with other people. 

“Whether that’s socially or in the workplace, you can really create a big impact by doing that,” Charlie says. 

But an inclusive workplace also needs to “come from the top”. 

“Really inclusive leadership, and leaders who take a strong stand, can really set the tone in an organisation,” Charlie says. 

That should be complemented with inclusive policies, recruitment strategies, employee network groups and an open forum where people are “listened to”. 

Mobile phones being held up with different colour screens and symbols to show different emotions

Continually review and improve 

Importantly, it’s about making sure things don’t just happen “once a year”.

“You see some companies doing something during Pride month - maybe someone comes in to give a talk - and that doesn’t continue until the next year when it’s Pride month again,” Charlie says. 

“So it’s about continually reviewing and improving as opposed to thinking ‘right, we’ve done xyz, now we’re an inclusive company, that’s ticked that box’. 

“It’s everything from the small things like having your pronouns on your email signature to looking at the kind of imagery you use in your internal communications and externally - do you put out things that show very heteronormative relationships, or do you do things that actually are much more representative of a more inclusive society? 

“And do you show that so that anyone coming into your company - whether they're a client, or a potential candidate for a job - just has a very palpable feeling that this is an inclusive space where everyone is welcome and valid?”

Ultimately, it’s about allowing employees to be their “true selves” at work. 

“We can all do more to help create more inclusive workspaces, where people feel supported, where people feel like they can be their best selves at work every day,” Charlie says. “I know the difference that's made in my life. Having the support of allies around me has been a real game changer.”

At heycar, inclusivity is one of our core values. We are committed to creating a culture and work environment where everyone can bring their true selves to work, where everyone respects and values each other, and can truly feel like they belong. 

We constantly strive to make heycar an even more inclusive place to work and challenge where we could do better.

Find out more about D&I and careers at heycar.