Question 2: What are your experiences, positive or negative, with being openly out and practicing architecture?

“I’ve never had any specific comments made directly towards me, but there is a tone of judgment in side comments or side glances that definitely affects how I feel I am able to present myself.”

“…my first week at work a coworker told me and I quote “homosexuals are sinners and they’re going to hell”…Overall it’s been a scary time to say the least, and it feels weird having to somewhat be back in the closet in a place I spend most of my time in.”

“…I have had a couple of consultants refuse to work with us on church projects because of this particular church’s stances on LGBTQ+ rights. But that does put that fear I had from back in Nebraska about being rejected because of my queerness. Would we lose a big project because my boss chose me to be the PM on this church? Would I have to be replaced?”

“On my third day of work my boss pulled me aside and told me not to mention my husband again or senior management might fire me on the spot if they heard.”

“I honestly feel so discounted by being a first-generation woman in landscape architecture that I can’t imagine adding another layer to that.”

Writing this week’s blog has been challenging. Reflecting on the answers we received wasn’t easy either. Last week’s blog shed light on lived experiences and brought to the surface tangible calls to action centered on visibility, advocacy, safety, and the built environment – something we felt we could wrap our hands around and find momentum behind.

However, as we began to read through and digest the responses to this week’s survey question, we were struck with a slew of our own reactions, impressions, experiences, and perspectives. Looking from the outside, one would think the profession of architecture is largely moving towards a more inclusive, welcoming, and accepting profession. Yet many of the perspectives shared this week were a reminder and indication that the tide is not shifting as much as we would think.

If the responses seem shocking, unsettling, or overwhelmingly negative, know we were struck by the same thoughts too. Even where we had positive responses, those were often accompanied by a negative experience or two. Our initial thought was that location might be a larger driving force – urban centers or more liberal states versus more conservative states or less densely populated areas.

But as we started delving deeper into the data, any impact of location began to take a back seat. Many negative responses were coming from larger cities – the last place most people would expect, at least the last place we would. Instead, who a person was out to and where they were in their career (student versus professional) seemed to carry more weight as to whether experiences of being out were largely positive or largely negative.

“At school I was fully out and all professors and students were great about it.”

“My queer identity has never been an issue in my studies or as an intern.”

Both sentiments reminded us of being in New Orleans for the AIAS Forum. Talking with students, we      not only heard about how they were doing – we had a sense of positivity about what they were experiencing. No one was scared about being out in a studio setting or class. (Okay. Maybe one or two who we caught giving long side glances to the Out in Architecture table.) We even had a couple of straight students who wanted to take the book to a transgender friend who was navigating transitioning while in architecture school.

Yet we have to wonder if that positivity will carry forward into their careers. Despite a more open environment in college and academic studio settings, are students going to find themselves pushing up against a profession that is still largely conservative and stuck within a heteronormative status quo? Will future generations push us towards an inflection point of change, one that the profession has seemed to embrace sometimes – but as we have seen this week, less often than not? 

And what about those currently in the profession – those who worry about the project that they might be pulled from, the advocacy (or not) from top level leadership down, the safety when traveling out of state for a project, or access to health and wellness care and benefits?  

“It’s still seen as too political and divisive so some firms do not want to engage at all or only “support” in a performative manner.”

“Early in my career, I worked in a firm with no HR and very conservative ownership. Unfortunately, I felt that in the firm’s culture, I couldn’t fully be present as me.”

“Many leaders, office principals in the industry are still white straight men. The people in power from client side as well. You need to fit into certain behavior types in order to fit in which doesn’t allow an authentic self to flourish     .”

We like to think the generation of students coming out of architecture programs in the last few years will help institute the shift in culture where everyone can be out, can be authentic, and can be respected and taken seriously within architecture. That could be us hoping, especially knowing how the first years of a career can be. But we have a hard time seeing the students we met this year moving into the profession and not expressing who they are.

However, one comment popped out – and again, reflective of the visibility we talked about in last week’s blog – about the need for queer leaders in the profession that are advocates for the next generation – the generation that is unaccustomed to being in the closet.

“People in leadership who are LGBT who do not advocate for others in the community – an amnesia about the challenges and an attitude of ‘I got here on my own and expect others to do the same.’”

For queer architects – and not only queer architects – this lack of support from members within our community is a big negative to overcome. We hope that the leaders who look like us will support us. However, those leaders are just as likely to harbor an implicit bias towards their respective communities, like eating their own as a means of protecting themselves and their position. While that seems counterintuitive – because why wouldn’t you want to see other people be as successful – that bias happens in corporate environments over and over and over, including within architecture firms.

Though struck with the volume of negative experiences and, admittedly, finding ourselves both disheartened and at a loss for words, we did hear perspectives that shared positive experiences, messages of support and change. 

“Colleagues have been extremely supportive. It can be sensed at times that the voices and focus on LGBTQ issues is not always as supported by clients and contractors, but despite that, it has never made me regret or alter my behavior or voice professionally and publicly.”

“The profession is much more accepting than it was when I joined in 1981, and local/state/national laws provide protection and equality in the workplace.”

“So far, so good. I think it’s a little easier for women, especially on the jobsite which is nearly 100% men. The construction crews seem to be OK with a woman who acts, talks, or presents herself in a non-traditional way.”

At a moment when the queer community across the US feels under attack, the above responses serve as a reminder of the positive experiences possible in architecture. Getting bogged down in the negativity of what is happening nationally is easy to do, and we must take time to remember good things are happening, and we do have allies working to support us as a community and a profession.

However, we know from reading the responses that not everyone is in a place where they feel safe and accepted. For us, reading and sharing these experiences has been a tough but critically important reminder about how far we have to go to truly change both the profession and the world we all live in to a more accepting, safe, inclusive place. We have heard that regardless of location. Experiences being out can vastly vary.

Many are still most comfortable being out to colleagues, but not to clients or contractors. Students are still being faced with an openness and safety in academic studios that is less frequently translated into the profession. And, most importantly, we are reminded that not only do we need visible queer leaders within the profession, but that advocacy does not and cannot stop with ourselves and our individual lived experiences.

We have the opportunity to create the change we want to see, so in ten years we find the responses to this question more uplifting. And that is an opportunity that everyone must take.