Pride by Design – AIA Austin LGBTQIA+ Alliance on building community and finding intersections
Blog.004 | Beau Frail
Beau Frail (he/him) is a Project Architect at Fox Fox Studio. He helped start the LGBTQIA+ Alliance at AIA Austin.
Joe D’Elia (he/him) is an Architect at Haddon+Cowan Architects. After moving to Austin and looking for ways to get involved, he started volunteering with the newly created LGBTQIA+ Alliance at AIA Austin and became the committee’s first Co-Chair, and is now a Commissioner at AIA Austin
Mikel Bennett (she/her) is a Senior Associate at Chioco Design. Mikel helped develop the LGBTQIA+ Alliance since its creation and is fondly referred to as the “founding mother” of the committee. Mikel was part of the founding board for NOMA of Central Texas, will serve as the NOMA Liaison to AIA Austin. She is also a Big Medium Board Member.
Tim Petersen (he/him) is an Architect at Chioco Design. Tim has been a long-time volunteer with the LGBTQIA+ Alliance. Tim will be serving as the 2023 Co-Chair with Robbie Anderson.
Beau, Joe, Mikel, and Tim shared with Pride by Design about forming the AIA Austin LGBTQIA+ Alliance during the beginning of the pandemic and advice for others who may be looking to start an Alliance of their own.
How was the AIA Austin LGBTQIA+ Alliance created?
BF: Many of our early organizers participated in a design charrette for an LGBTQIA+ Center in Austin and it was so powerful having a group of queer designers and architects all in one room together. Wanting to keep that energy going, I got in contact with the Alliance in Chicago and later met with Ingrid Spencer, AIA Austin’s Executive Director, to pitch the idea of starting an Alliance in Austin.
MB: AIA Austin was supportive of creating an LGBTQIA+ interest group, which launched in March 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. We had a couple Zoom meetings that led to us creating our first event called Building Equity, which was a virtual panel that also featured a Drag Queen performance. People from all over the country joined and even someone from Spain.
JD: We were all isolated from the pandemic and were able to find connection through these virtual meetings. Nothing like this had been done before in Austin. We were excited to be building this community of LGBTQIA+ architects and knew we needed to keep the momentum going.
Why is it important to create LGBTQIA+ Alliances?
TP: To create space for our community to come together, feel seen in our profession, and celebrate our commonalities.
MB: To increase visibility. We want people to show up at work as their full selves. The Alliance also allows us to give back to the LGBTQIA+ community in positive ways.
BF: So we can create equitable conversations that include LGBTQIA+ issues and also share the joy of our community with one another and our allies.
They also noted that the LGBTQIA+ community intersects with other marginalized groups within the profession, including people of color and persons with disabilities. Starting the Alliance during the pandemic allowed AIA Austin to cast a wider net when looking for collaborators and panelists who could represent multiple intersections of identities and share from the diverse perspectives that exist within the LGBTQIA+ community.
The AIA Austin LGBTQIA+ Alliance has created virtual events, such as “Building Equity” and “Building Pride”, as well as in-person sessions at the Texas Society of Architects Conferences in San Antonio (2021) and in El Paso (2022). These events and sessions center LGBTQIA+ professionals and engage the broader architecture community to consider questions such as:
How can firms make meaningful connections with LGBTQIA+ individuals in the workplace?
What are office policies that can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment?
What changes would need to happen in our community in order for all of us to feel truly supported, represented and understood?
Being an ally is just the first step. How can allies become accomplices and leverage their privilege to advance equity for the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities?
These discussions, both virtual and in person, were critical to the LGBTQIA+ Alliance’s mission:
To foster meaningful relationships within the design community, and elevate LGBTQIA+ designers in Austin and celebrate their achievements.
During the pandemic stage of the Alliance, the group was able to reach out to LGBTQIA+ architects across the country. Through networking emails and Zoom calls, they were able to meet even more Texas-based LGBTQIA+ architects who can be a part of these discussions and help AIA Austin become a resource for their community.
What advice do you have for others who may be looking to start an LGBTQIA+ Alliance in their own chapter?
MB: Start small and build up from there. We started as an interest group doing one or two things, which showed AIA Austin why a group like this was needed. Within a year we were a Committee and looking for sponsors to support and grow our events.
TP: When creating events, find the intersections between the LGBTQIA+ community and the architecture profession. For example, when we partnered with Drag Queen Story Hour for their session at SXSW, we found a book about Zaha Hadid and architecture for the Drag Queens to read.
JD: Take the plunge and go for it. You may be surprised how many people want to be part of the Alliance and are willing to support you. Also, elevate stories that have been hidden.
As Alliances across the country continue to grow and new ones are created - Pride by Design looks forward to sharing their stories. For anyone interested in connecting with one of these chapters or starting your own LGBTQIA+ Alliance, please reach out to Pride by Design at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will gladly connect the dots!