When was the last time a member of Congress called for your death? For the estimated 9 million LGBT adults in the United States, it was May 26, during a meeting of the House Republican Conference on Capitol Hill. Expressing opposition to an amendment that would have added LGBT job protections to an appropriations bill, Rep. Rick Allen of Georgia read Romans 1:18–32 to his colleagues. One of six Bible passages about homosexuality, it decrees that “those who persist in such practices deserve death.” Two weeks later, Omar Mateen murdered 49 people during Latin night at a gay club in Orlando, Fla. The deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history, it has sparked essential conversations nationwide about prejudice and violence—conversations that are germane to architecture as we strive toward greater diversity.
Homophobia didn’t suddenly vanish last year after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. “More than 150 pieces of legislation were pending in state legislatures that would restrict rights or legal protections for sexual minorities,” The New York Times reports. “Gays have surpassed Jews as the minority group most often targeted in hate crimes, according to the FBI.” It is well-proven that hate speech promotes hate crimes. So say what you want, but please, watch what you say. Intolerance and the threat of violence don’t just occur somewhere on the lunatic fringe. They’re a reality in our schools and workplaces.
In a 2015 construction industry survey, The Architects’ Journal found that while more than 70 percent of Britain’s gay architects felt comfortable being open about their sexuality in the office, some 60 percent had heard homophobic comments at work in the past 12 months, only 20 percent felt supported by senior colleagues, and just 12 percent felt comfortable being openly gay on jobsites.
I am unaware of an equivalent U.S. study. (The AIA’s 2016 diversity report focused solely on gender and race.) But an absence of data doesn’t mean there’s an absence of discrimination. Rep. Allen himself is part of the AEC industry, as founder of a commercial general contracting company. His official bio says he “graduated from Auburn University’s School of Architecture and Fine Arts” (now called the College of Architecture, Design and Construction). Allen or someone with similar opinions could easily be your customer, client, colleague, or boss. For LGBT folks like me, that’s a scary prospect, because in 29 states we have no legal job protections, in 75 countries homosexual acts are illegal, and in 10 countries homosexuality is punishable by death.
The AIA code of ethics lacks the force of law, but it admirably encourages a culture of diversity, prohibiting discrimination by “race, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, or sexual orientation.” While the code should be amended to encompass gender identity, it readily could serve as a model for other industry organizations, too many of which have no equivalent. Indeed, if I can find a bright side to Orlando, it is as a reminder that the profession, and individual architects, can take a leadership role, fostering inclusivity in design studios, on the jobsite, in meetings with clients and collaborators, and beyond. After all, architecture serves to build communities, not condemn them.
It’s part of our DNA.