By Tereasa Nims

Trucker A. J. Billsby remembers when he used to pay $500 to fill his 250-gallon fuel tank on his tractor-trailer.

An independent trucker drives past a gas station sign near the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. where independent truckers held a rally to protest high fuel prices on April 4. – BOB BIRD/Associated Press

Now filling up costs him $1,000.

Billsby, a gay trucker from the Dallas area is just one of the many independent truckers who are hurting.

Large trucking corporations are able to cushion themselves from increased diesel costs by purchasing fuel futures, experts say. But that is a luxury independent truckers don’t have.

"Struggling doesn’t even begin to express what is happening," Billsby said this week.

Billsby said he knows several gay, lesbian and even some transgender truckers. About 60 percent of the ones he knows own their own trucks, he said.

"They are hurting, too," he said.

Billsby hoped an April 1 shutdown staged by U.S. truckers would have had some impact. But he said there was no relief.

In the shutdown, truckers either pulled off the roadways or, in some cases, slowed their tractor-trailers to 25 mph to conserve fuel. Some of the drivers who didn’t show the need for speed were issued traffic citations.

"I pulled off for the day," Billsby said.

"I wish there wasn’t so much uncertainty about what lies ahead," he added. "I’m just hoping to stay afloat until there is some resolve."

Billsby said historically diesel has been cheaper than gas. But costs for the slower-burning fuel shot-up 45 percent in the past year, bringing it to around $4 a gallon, compared to $2.75 a gallon a year ago.

Lesbian trucker Melissa Devon, formerly of Texas and now living in Arkansas, said it’s mostly independent truckers who are feeling the pinch.

"I’m just glad I don’t own my own rig," Devon said. "I use to hope for that, but after watching how gas prices have put some of the independent truckers I know into bankruptcy, it makes me thankful for what I don’t have."

Timothy Anderson, president of the Gay Truckers Association, said he is also feeling the crunch from the rise of diesel fuel.

"In northeast Washington, I am currently paying $4.17 a gallon," Anderson said. "It’s even worse in California."

Some truckers are taking aim at lowering the price of diesel. An estimated 100 truck drivers recently rallied on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol asking lawmakers to cut the 38-cent per gallon state tax on their diesel fuel.

Texas has a 20-cent state tax on diesel and gas, the 37th-highest state tax rate in the country.

The American Trucking Associations is urging the Bush Administration to act quickly in incorporating strategies for an affordable supply of oil for the nation’s 3.5 million truck drivers and American consumers.

According to ATA, fuel costs used to make up the second-highest operating expense for motor carriers, trailing labor. Fuel costs are now reportedly beginning to surpass labor.

The ATA proposed several steps the government could take to help ease trucking hardships, including releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, exploring oil-rich areas, requiring speed limiters on all new trucks set to 68 mph or lower and working with all state attorney generals to combat any fuel price gouging.

"The signs are troubling," said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. "The industry is doing its part to conserve fuel, but we need help."

ATA said the trucking industry spent $22 billion in 2007 and are prepared to spend $135 billion on diesel fuel this year.

Meanwhile, the LGBT truckers on the road, just like their non-gay counterparts, are struggling to stay rolling.

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