LGBTQ+ professional events offer more than networking
San Francisco firm SWA Group opened its studio during A’23 to welcome LGBTQ+ architects and allies for a happy hour, rooftop views, and drag performances. The sold-out event, hosted by AIA San Francisco and sponsored by AIA, SWA, Build out California, Space Plan Wizard, Pendergast Consulting Group, Paulett Taggart Architects, and Y.A. Studio, united design professionals from around the country for the opportunity to network and celebrate their community and its place in the profession.
San Francisco architect Kevin Riley, Jr., AIA, took the lead on organizing this year’s event after attending the LGBTQ+ Happy Hour at A’22 in Chicago.
“It was my first conference, my first conference event, and it was just really great to be in a space of queer folks and the LGBTQ community. I met friends at that event that become conference friends for the rest of the week,” Riley recalled. He collaborated with event sponsors and AIA San Francisco for months to ensure A’23 guests could experience the same sense of belonging.
Sarah Nelson-Woynicz, AIA, an Atlanta-based architect, was among the 200+ attendees.
“There was a buzz you could feel as soon as you walked into the room and an exhale to just be in a space with queer designers and allies, in community,” said Nelson-Woynicz. “To see so many from AIA leadership—Emily Grandstaff-Rice, Kimberly Dowdell, Lakisha Ann Woods—attend the happy hour spoke volumes by just being present.”
The reception is among several community-based events, like college alumni groups, which provide A’23 attendees the opportunity to network outside the conference. Riley says the intent is the same for the LGBTQ+ community, though LGBTQ+ events often provide unique opportunities for people to express themselves in ways that have not always felt accepted professionally.
“The interaction I had that really struck out was with a transgender person who showed up at the event presenting as a woman, which they said is not something they had really event felt comfortable to do in a professional environment. They are a longtime practicing architect in San Franciso and never really felt that they could come to a professional architecture event expressing themselves that way, and being genuine in that way,” said Riley, who was proud of the opportunity the event gave the guest “to be themselves and be an architect, be professional but make a stance.”
Riley and Nelson-Woynicz are hopeful professional LGBTQ+ events will become more common and that the event during A’23 is a small moment of a much bigger movement.
“Local AIA chapters across the country—Chicago, Austin, Dallas, Boston, New York, Georgia, Phoenix—are organizing events, hosting design competitions, engaging in advocacy, and are actively working towards a more equitable future for this profession and our communities. The value is beyond quantifying—it is at the core of how we all are engaged in increasing the equity, diversity, and inclusion of the profession,” said Nelson-Woynicz. “When people have the space to thrive as themselves, things beyond what we could imagine are possible.”