The first time a queer person comes out of the proverbial closet is not the last. Coming out is a decision that queer people face regularly, including at the workplace, when interacting with co-workers, supervisors, clients, and colleagues. Being queer is a minority status that can be hidden, which is both a blessing and a curse. Every day, I ask myself questions such as “Do I need to act straight in this situation to make people comfortable? Does my outfit make me look too gay? Am I willing to compromise my values to shape who I am for others?” Each experience is packed with emotions: fear, joy, love, and uncertainty.
While searching for a career path, I saw a lot of queer people in the architecture world. I understood this to mean that they had support at some level, prompting my interest and passion for the industry. I want to share the advice that I have gathered over time and my experience as one member of the LGBTQ+ design community. My story and perspective do not reflect those of others: I am a white, cisgender man—privileges not everyone has.
Coming Out at the Office
Every morning when I step into the office, I must decide whether to come out. In the professional sense, my sexuality doesn’t define or affect my ability to work, but it does affect the level to which I can connect with others. Hiding who I am can prohibit the formation of those crucial co-worker relationships.
Personally, I worry most about people gossiping or questioning my sexuality on their own accord, so I prefer to be open about who I am in order to control the narrative. Aside from casually adding, “Oh, by the way, I’m gay” into conversation, I look for ways to come out passively by actively living my life. I display a rainbow flag on my desk; I share stories and pictures with my co-workers about what my husband and I did over the weekend; and I bring my husband to work functions and introduce him to my co-workers.
Coming Out to Clients
Architects work in a service-based industry. We must earn our clients’ trust for our projects to be successful and to, ideally, develop lasting relationships. Some people choose not to intermix personal life and work life, but being open across both aspects gives me the freedom to be me.
When I meet a client, I don’t explicitly plan how to share my sexuality; instead, I let the topic naturally come up in conversation. I try to introduce this part of myself early in our interactions because the longer I wait, the harder it becomes. If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll bring my husband into the conversation, giving the client insight to my life and encouraging them to share something about themselves. My hope is that the client better understands both my values as a designer and as a person, leading to a stronger connection on both fronts.
Coming Out on the Job Site
As someone who travels nationwide for work, I have found myself at times on sites with little in common with the contractors and team aside from the progress of the project. My objective then becomes about not only sharing my sexuality but also building relationships in general. Finding similar interests helps people become more comfortable. Bantering about things outside of work will almost always help when the discussion turns to submittals and change orders.
As a result, I play into the passions of my colleagues. For example, I set up Google alerts for local football teams so I can contribute to conversations that follow the past weekend’s games. By adding five minutes of football research into my daily schedule, I was able to navigate a cultural barrier with a contractor on a project at Louisiana State University, create a beautiful space for the community, and build a great relationship.
Safety and Inclusion at the Workplace
Coming out is not a one-time, one-size-fits-all moment. It is a continuous journey that takes care and understanding. More importantly, it requires a sense of safety and security. Just as individuals must be secure about themselves to come out, our workplaces must create safe and inclusive environments. While the design profession still has a long way to go, I am encouraged by its progress on LGBTQ+ topics. Our conversations about diversity and inclusion are giving underrepresented groups a voice that we did not have before, and we are creating workplaces that encourage these discussions.
Being gay never leaves my mind. Worrying about how I am perceived as a gay man makes me second-guess many of my actions. Fortunately, my workplace is committed to diversity and inclusion, allowing me to be myself, to come out, and to build the types of relationships I need in order to thrive as an architect.
The views and conclusions from this author are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine or of The American Institute of Architects.
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