Alice Daneal has a long and storied history with SOUTHLAND Transportation, dating back to before the Pacific Western Group of Companies purchased the former “mom and pop” school bus company in the mid-1980s.

“I first came to SOUTHLAND in August of 1979 and started in bus #20. At that time, our highest bus number was 71.”

The following year, Alice moved to the Highfield yard and remained a school bus/charter driver for six more years before moving into the shop to become the first-ever parts person. She would stay in that role until leaving the company in 1994 to pursue other interests.

“I left for 20 years to try some other things, but I wasn’t very happy, and I ended up coming back to Southland in 2014. I worked in specialized transportation and drove a handi-bus for a few years. I also did a little dispatching and was a training officer when COVID happened. We all got laid off, and the first thing that opened back up was school bus, so I ended up going full circle and coming back to driving a school bus.”

While returning to a company she had a strong connection with was an easy decision, the year 2014 also marked a much more significant and life-changing transition.

At age 55, Alice came out as a transgender woman.

“I had started transitioning before I came back in 2014, and trying to find a job as an openly transgender person was not easy. I had companies that would just hang up on me when they heard my voice.”

The decision to live her life truthfully and openly wasn’t made lightly, and Alice wasn’t sure how she would be received in the workplace as a transgender woman. Fearing judgment and uncertainty, she took a leap of faith and approached Southland for a chance to rejoin the team.

“When I went back to Southland, they were very welcoming. Nobody gave me a hard time, but some of the older drivers were a little funny with me at first until they realized I knew what I was doing and I could do the job. It’s worked out very well. I just needed someone to give me a chance.”

Alice has also felt that her presence in the workplace has made it easier for other transgender people to follow in her footsteps.

“I was the first one at Southland to come in as an openly trans person. Initially, I got a lot of funny looks, but after a few months, everybody accepted me and welcomed me, and it made it easier for other people to do the same thing. I think I’ve made it easier for others to follow, and hopefully, I’m a bit of a role model in that way.”

Alice also thinks that SOUTHLAND has an opportunity to reach out and actively recruit people from the 2SLGBTQI+ community to let them know that this is a company that will welcome them.

“I’ve suggested that we target that group because there are people in the 2SLGBTQI+ community who do have trouble finding jobs. I know that Southland is always looking for people, and I know there are good people there, and maybe if we advertise in that community, we could attract more candidates.”

While Alice admits that she experienced some bigoted comments from passengers while driving the specialized transportation mini-buses, the kids on her school bus route have been terrific.

“I started back to school busing three years ago, and the school I drive for is wonderful, the teachers have been very supportive, and the kids at St. Philip Elementary have been really good. They have never had a problem. Kids have to be taught to hate, and they are very accepting until someone teaches them otherwise. The younger generation are more accepting because they have friends who are gay or trans, and they understand better than the older generations who are set in their ways.”

Since coming out in 2014, SOUTHLAND Transportation has stood firmly by her side, but Alice would like to send a special shout-out to former Vice President of Student Line, Murray Glass, for his support and friendship. Having someone in a senior leadership position at the company who welcomed her from the get-go made a big difference.

“Murray Glass was about as high up as we can go, and he’s been great. Murray and I are friends, and I could always go and talk to him if I had any issues, and he has an open-door policy that way. He’s been like a buddy and has been very supportive.”

As Pride month wraps up, Alice knows the 2SLGBTQI+ community is in the spotlight, but she also accepts that not everyone is an ally. Her message to them is simple.

“Not everyone agrees with me, but my feeling is – if it doesn’t involve you or a member of your family, butt out and give people the freedom to make their own decisions. Life is hard these days, so don’t make it harder on the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Ultimately, all Alice wants is to be respected for the job she proudly performs every day. She also feels that being out and visible in the community shows that trans people just want to live their lives feeling comfortable in their own skin.

“I’ve been told many times by adults that they admire and respect me for the courage I’ve shown, but to me, I’m just being myself. I believe it’s important for kids to see that it’s OK to be yourself, to be comfortable in your own skin, and not submit to the will of others just because they live in a world of outdated gender stereotypes.”

As for her future plans, Alice just wants to keep driving her school route as long as possible. “I turn 65 in a few weeks, and as far as I know, if my health is good, I can keep driving a bus until I’m 71. Hopefully, if my health hangs in there, I can stick around a few more years.”

To say Alice’s journey with the company has been a memorable one would be a massive understatement. If she drives until she’s 71, that would make it 50 years since she first started at SOUTHLAND – and a fitting way to wrap up a trailblazing career in transportation.