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AIA Chicago to create LGBTQ architect group
by Ariel Parrella-Aureli

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As the executive vice president of the American Institute of Architects' ( AIA's ) Chicago chapter, Zurich Esposito always has his hands full.

Throughout his 12-year career with AIA, Esposito has created many programs for members, helped start the Chicago Architects magazine in 2007 where he is now publisher and was this year's honorary member for notable contributions and service of people outside of the architecture profession. Now, the architecture ambassador is helping to create the first LGBTQ group at AIA Chicago to increase the organization's diversity and inclusion.

"There are groups in Chicago that are supportive of women in architecture, Latinos in architecture, African-Americans in architecture; yet there is no specific group made up of and supporting the LGBT members of the community," Esposito said.

As part of both communities, Esposito said this alliance is necessary to help eliminate any perceived and real barriers LGBTQ architects face. While it may look as though the architecture and design community is headed by white, straight men, he said the reality is there is a lot of diversity in the industry. But seeing it is not so visible or accessible, so he hopes the group will make that clearer and show successes of LGBTQ architects and designers. Being a resource and inspiration for aspiring LGBTQ designers is an important piece of the group, too, Zurich added. Representation in the industry will help open doors for new, diverse professionals.

"If a young, emerging architect can see that there is a place for them in the architecture community that is largely perceived as a profession headed by white straight men, [they can say], 'Oh, there's a place for me in the profession of architecture,'—maybe something they didn't see before," he said.

The group is still in the development stage and has no name or specific practices. Esposito, who has served on the national council of diversity for the AIA, said it came out of discussion with other AIA members who questioned the chapter's involvement with LGBTQ professionals. The AIA aims to showcase diverse individuals and adhere to equality and inclusion for the betterment of the industry and has been taking steps to make its organization more diverse, according to its website.

Who will be part of the Chicago group, what kinds of events or goals it will address and its leadership are all still up for debate, Esposito said. However, he wants to make sure the group will be foremost a support and networking community for LGBTQ architects and provide mentorship, education and resources. He also wants the alliance to help LGBTQ professionals with leadership and career opportunities and make sure that access and awareness is present. These discussions are similar for other minorities in the field, he said, like making sure women and ethnic professionals are well represented and can climb the career ladder to higher levels of the profession.

"The field is diversifying," he said. "The student bodies enrolled in architecture schools are diverse groups, and we are going to watch the profession become more diverse as those individuals become employed."

Esposito said that he wants everyone to feel welcome in the industry and is happy he has never felt any disrespect or discomfort for being gay. He acknowledged his past career in finance was not as open to letting him fully express himself and be comfortable at work, which is crucial to any career that one devotes their life to, like architecture. He said part of his decision to switch trajectories was so he could feel comfortable being his full self—an issue that some LGBTQ designers face, and one the group wants to change.

To better understand how this group can support the LGBTQ architect and design community, Zurich will host a meeting Oct. 5 to discuss what AIA members want the group to be. He said it is crucial to hear everyone's voice and work together to create the group's backbone. He said members are excited about the new initiative and he hopes more will attend the meeting and make their voice heard.

The chapter has about 3500 architects in its organization, and in a strong LGBTQ community like Chicago, Zurich sees this group as being beneficial on multiple levels. It is a melding of architecture and the LGBTQ community, just like the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St.

"Initiatives like the Center on Halsted, a very thoughtfully-designed building, communicates value to the people who use it and it says they are valued," Esposito said. "Architecture can be communicative and powerful. We are lucky to be in a city with great architecture and people who appreciate it. I know that is strongly felt in the LGBTQ community."

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