Question 1: What do you believe is the biggest challenge to LGBT architects and architectural students?

Let’s face it. Last year was a pretty rough year for the queer community. Between legislation attacking drag queens and the transgender community; hearing people call us pedophiles and groomers; and people claiming we are indoctrinating children; we suspect a lot of us ended the year feeling that queer advancement was beginning to move in reverse.

Consequently, we weren’t sure how this first question would be answered. Would respondents focus on what was happening in the architecture community? Would their answers encompass a broader viewpoint and reflect the events and feelings from last year?

While some answers did reflect on the latter, thoughts ultimately centered around three categories: visibility, advocacy and safety, and impacts on the built environment. And to some degree, they overlapped, whether that meant safety overlapping with visibility or a lack of understanding about issues of equity in spatial design and practice impacting the need for spaces that felt accepting.

However, we did want to break down each category, share what we heard, and allow you to think about where these topics might overlap and how they might be addressed as the profession moves forward.

Challenges with Visibility

“We can see the demographic changing in schools but not in leadership.”

Having spent the start of January at the AIAS Forum in New Orleans and looking at overall statistics, this sentiment feels quite true. We met an amazing number of queer students who were navigating through various colleges as openly queer, something neither of us would have imagined when we were in school.

But the question does need to be answered on why we aren’t seeing that change reflected in leadership. Has the current generation of queer architects not moved into those positions? Are they not comfortable being out in the profession or within their firms? Or have we just not seen that change yet? Perhaps that is something that’s on the horizon.

“Not having a professional community support; not visible leaders.”

The Big Gay Architect joked for many years about being the only gay architect in Dallas. In reality, he was the only visible gay architect in Dallas, and one architect doesn’t constitute a professional community. To provide support for other queer architects – whether younger, older, or living in more marginalized communities – more of us need to stand up and be counted. More and more voices need to be added to the conversation around what challenges queer architects are facing.

Ten years ago the idea of a queer architecture group within AIA wasn’t fathomable. However, we are starting to see a professional community forming around and through organizations like Pride by Design, Build Out Alliance, and LGBTQIA+ Alliances at local AIA Chapters, just to name a few. A network of queer architects is slowly (or maybe not so slowly) coming together across the country.

Challenges with Advocacy and Safety

“Anti-Trans and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation–stripping and limiting rights for queer architects and their families; making it unsafe to live and work in some states and cities.”

Where do we start, apart from recognizing the impact legislation made on the queer community in 2023 with more already proposed for this year. For those of us living in conservative states, we can easily find ourselves trying to balance our careers with our safety, a concept that even architects who are straight with queer children or family members are having to address. Yet we do not see visible pushback against this type of legislation from larger practices or from industry organizations, in spite of the potential for negative impacts to the profession.

If the first month of this year is any indication of how the 2024 legislative cycle will go, we are increasingly reaching a point where safety outweighs the limitation of rights, of health, of visibility, of the ability for queer architects and the families to live and work where they have. Should we expect to see a loss of talent as architects queer and straight relocate to places they see as safer environments? Will we see students – both queer and straight – consider job opportunities where they can be themselves and not worry about losing individual rights? Will we see the industry and large corporations (both within and beyond architecture) stand up or will we see a reversal in visibility, in diversity, in talent in the profession?

“Finding a firm that actively advocates and provides for a space to discuss/commune.”

“Advocacy for others, alliances with other minorities, bridging experiences across geographical divides.”

Checking a box is easy. Performative allyship is easy. Architecture firms can have queer employee resource groups (ERGs). They can have a robust equity, diversity, and inclusion policy. How those are being executed, however, is what matters. As queer architects, we have to take time to advocate for ourselves; to press leadership on how they are pursuing policy; and to participate in the groups and programs that are available to us.

At the same time, we must recognize that we do not operate in a bubble. How firm leaders and the profession address queer architects as a community may well be an indication of how they view other marginalized groups within practices, within architecture, and within the broader public. So often, architecture firms are only active within a community when working on a project and fail to step outside and engage beyond design.

Challenges with the Built Environment

“Very outdated and very gendered buildings codes that don’t reflect the future of humanity in general.”

Advocacy within the profession of architecture typically stops at policy that impacts the built environment. Yet, as we have seen in the last five years, changing policy not only during legislative cycles but in the writing of building codes and new guidelines continues to impact and intersect both place and people. We haven’t seen this level of concern over who goes to which restroom since North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill” in 2016.

But at some point, the architecture industry must recognize that policies affecting the built environment will always affect those engaged with it – people – and must move towards changes with some of the many tools available. Whether those are tools that architects deploy during design or building codes that are more expansive and inclusive in their language, design of the built environment actually could support buildings and spaces that reflect humanity today and in the future. Perhaps there is a not-too-distant future where a code exception is not required for gender affirming spaces like restrooms, but is the baseline from the start.

 “The dominance of the male, white, upper class, American perspective in the built environment is so strong that there is almost no conversation that even has openings for other voices.”

Ten years ago, The Big Gay Architect shared a similar concern in their answer to this question. Despite the advancement and recognition of minority and female architects, the industry as a whole was still dominated by cisgender white men. Even now, only 2% of registered architects are Black – a number that hasn’t changed in years. Somehow, in spite of numerous discussions around EDI and increasing adoption of EDI initiatives within firm policy, the profession still looks the same. We should not be surprised that someone would see architecture as not being open to other voices.

However, for the profession to change, we have to move beyond discussion and into action. We have to make architecture recognize that society isn’t homogeneous. That gender norms are changing. That students moving into the field do not look or act the same as they did ten years ago and are expecting more from firms than a job.

So maybe the biggest challenge for queer architects and students isn’t visibility, advocacy, or impact on the built environment, although we saw those ideas reflected again and again in the responses to this question. Perhaps instead our biggest challenge will be effecting change. Change in our visibility within the profession by standing up, being counted, and creating a community with a larger voice. Change in how we advocate for ourselves and others and how we convince the profession to advocate for us. And finally, change in how we design so the built environment reflects and embraces humanity in general, both now and in the future.