Pride 2022: Becoming an Ally

Matthew White, Dan Mossman and Alison Walker share a collaborative insight into the importance of LGBT+ allyship.

When I first applied to Ryder, there were two things that initially got me excited about the organization. Firstly, this was a company that shared many of my own values with regards to inclusivity, sustainability, and social responsibility. Secondly, after reading through some of the research and blog posts on the practice’s website, it became evident that Ryder also advocated for people like me, a gay man, and had ties to organizations that were making a positive impact in architecture to improve support for LGBT+ people.

When the opportunity arose to write a blog for Pride month, I felt it was important to centre the experiences and needs of those who struggle the most within this industry, to have their voices heard and taken seriously. We recognize that our experiences have been much easier relative to the physical and emotional violence that often follows Trans and Gender Non Conforming (TGNC) communities – that is, people whose gender does not align with the gender that was assigned to them at birth. When these communities experience violence, it is commonly referred to as transphobia.

Transphobia can exist in many different forms – from explicit physical or emotional abuse, a lack of access to stable jobs, or a lack of access to healthcare and legal rights, making it difficult for TGNC people to maintain economic safety. For example, prior to Bill C-16, which amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to outlaw discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression, Canadian trans and gender nonconforming people could be denied job opportunities, housing, medical care, and a host of other necessary services due to their gender identity or expression. Within architecture, transphobia may appear as designing without universal washrooms and change rooms – washrooms which say “men” and “women” force trans people to either choose based on their gender assigned at birth and their gender, placing them in an uncomfortable, and potentially unsafe situation. Someone whose gender does not align within this binary has no washroom to go to at all.

As a practice and individuals, it’s important to reflect on efforts we can take to improve opportunities for TGNC people. Transphobia certainly exists in architecture, and a crucial next step in Ryder’s commitment “to improve the quality of the world around us and, in doing so, improve people’s lives” must therefore be naming it where we see it. To do so, we must first understand and reflect on the ways that our own actions might create barriers for TNGC people wishing to enter and remain in this field.

However, when we first began to research how this might be done, it became apparent that information regarding TGNC people in the construction industry does not really exist. Neither Canada or the UK have statistics which show the number of TGNC people working within the industry, leading us to believe that either these groups are incredibly underrepresented, or trans and non binary people do not feel safe disclosing themselves to employers and colleagues.

In Canada, gender equality within these industries is progressing, albeit slowly, with only 29% of jobs in architecture being held by cisgender women in 20111 and only 13% are in construction (4.7% working as tradespeople)2, while in the UK these numbers were 29% in 2019 and 9.9% in 2015, respectively. In an industry where cisgender women are still fighting to see themselves represented, trans and nonbinary people face potentially more rigid barriers.

It is the responsibility of all practices to create space within the industry where trans and non binary people can find themselves represented and safe.

The Progress Pride flag was developed in 2018 by non binary American artist and designer Daniel Quasar (who uses xe/xyr pronouns). Based on the iconic rainbow flag from 1978, the redesign celebrates the diversity of the LGBT+ community and calls for a more inclusive society.

The topic of pronouns is a good place to start – these have taken centre stage as talking points for trans and non binary issues globally. Disclosing pronouns can be an excellent way of signalling to trans and non binary people that you are an individual or organization that is respecting and validating their gender. While not everyone is comfortable sharing what pronouns they use, by stating your own, you provide opportunities for trans and non binary people to disclose their gender in a way that is less intimidating – unlike situations where disclosing their gender means making a grand statement or an announcement.

To foster inclusion and safety, these changes must also be accompanied by a dedication to fighting discrimination in all areas of the workplace. Zero tolerance for discrimination policies in the office and on work sites provide real consequences for verbal abuse against trans and non binary people, and programs which provide education about gender and sexuality equip people with the knowledge to recognize language and attitudes that are not safe for trans people.

Disclosing pronouns reframes the conversation about gender, but if it is the only change then the issue of safety in the workplace for trans and non binary individuals remains an issue. We must continue to have difficult conversations about discrimination, particularly in situations where a colleague, client or consultant are not upholding the humanity or safety of trans and non binary people.

Systems that we currently have in the construction industry that work for cisgender individuals, might not work for trans and non binary individuals. Growth involves expansion, adding to existing systems, or revising systems so that they can include all people. If what currently exists is not working, then it is up to us to change whatever physical, bureaucratic, or personal barriers are preventing TGNC people from thriving within both architecture and the wider construction industry.

These conversations, while difficult, offer real life opportunities to stand up for a group that may not find safety in the industry. By positioning ourselves as a champion for TGNC communities, Ryder opens its doors to many new perspectives, widening our pool of potential people, clients, partners – any number of new connections.

Over the past year we have developed an ongoing Inclusivity strategy, with a devoted team working to bring meaningful change in respect of equity, diversity and inclusion. In January 2022, we rolled out the optional addition of gender pronouns in email signatures and profiles, and are working to discover more ways to support marginalized communities.

Image credits
Banner image: Transgender flag designed by Monica Helms as a symbol of the transgender community, organizations and individuals.

1Canadian Architect – Architecture’s Gender Gap

2ProCore – Canada Making Strides in Attracting Women to Construction, But More Work is Needed

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