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LGBTQ architects featured at Pride Month event
by Ariel Parrella-Aureli
2019-06-27

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The national and local LGBTQ architect community celebrated Pride Month with a historical panel hosted by the national chapter of the American Institute of Architects ( AIA ) and AIA Chicago's LGBTQIA+ alliance at Skidmore, Owings and Merill June 25.

Featuring LGBTQ leaders in the industry, the panel honored the pride to be oneself and create an empowering, open and visible culture appreciative of all differences, but acknowledged there is still work to be done in the field. The event was historic because it was the first time the national chapter of the biggest architecture institute supported an LGBTQ initiative, said moderator Marcia Jones Calloway, director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion of AIA National.

The panelists were Yiselle Santos, director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, at HKS in Washington, D.C.; Chris Morrison, managing director of Perkins+Will also in Washington, D.C.; Katherine Georgeson, founder of Stage Architects in Milwaukee; and Dan Earles, founder of Earles Architects in Chicago. Each shared and unique experiences they have faced in the industry and how being out has affected their work, how their firms have taken the pledge to be inclusive and reshape heteronormative systems and what change still needs to happen locally.

For local architect Earles, who started his firm over 25 years ago in his Wicker Park home, being an LGBTQ business enterprise is a professional way of telling clients and the community that the firm serves, and is accepting, of different identities.

"It gave me the ability to let others coming to the firm realize know who I am and who we are," Earles said. "It created that culture of inclusiveness and divers[ity]… it has been very important to me in my career. It's something for me to shine a light on being out and open in the workplace."

Morrison, who came out later in life and had a different experience being openly gay in the workplace, now has embraced his true self and has a supportive team that helped create an inclusive corporate company culture in all of its 25 global studios. He said this helped him feel comfortable to come out as gay.

"[Our company culture] is part of the DNA that drives us forward," Morrison said.

His firm was named the Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality by the Human Rights Campaign, and Director of Global Diversity Gabrielle Bullock has been featured in multiple news outlets on the importance of diversity in architecture.

But while the culture of comfort and inclusion is working well in bigger companies and from a national perspective, local firms could benefit from more progress for LGBTQ inclusivity in ways that corporate cannot monitor, said Santos, the newly appointed director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at her Washington, D.C-based firm.

Because she brings a "trifecta" of diversity—she is Latina, a woman and a lesbian—it is important to be proud of who she is and let people see every aspect of her identity, she said. Although she said her coming out experience was never an issue, she knows some business systems in place need fixing and that others are not as lucky as she is.

"Firms need to take more accountability and ownership to break those systems," Santos said.

She also said firms need to be prepared to hold space for LGBTQ employees and push them to not repress their identity at work.

"What we are trying to do right now is empower the people locally and create partnerships between office leaders and people interested in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conversation to understand what the issues are in their office," she said. "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is about the future of architecture and creating a culture where people feel safe and empowered, vulnerable and can share their best ideas."


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