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Pride by Design – Larry Paschall: Elder Queer

Blog.006 | A.L. Hu


When you Google Larry Paschall, the results link to his bio on various websites: Spotted Dog Architecture, the firm of which Larry is CEO; AIA’s KnowledgeNet; and LinkedIn. Common among the different bios is Mr. Paschall’s openness about being “a fervent advocate for his industry and the communities in which he both lives and serves and is currently pursuing advocacy opportunities within the architecture and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.” Mr. Paschall is a respected and inspirational speaker who has shared his experience and industry acumen at state and regional conferences for the AIA. In addition to his design and advocacy activities, Mr. Paschall is author of The Big Gay Architect Blog.


I know Mr. Paschall from participating in the A’19 panel he organized called, “The Silent Minority: LGBTQIA+ Voices in Architecture.” Despite interacting with Mr. Paschall on multiple occasions, I realized that I don’t know much about him as a person. How did he get so well-known as the gay architect from Texas? How has he fared in one of the country’s most red and conservative states? And what does it mean to be an elder queer architect?


I met with Mr. Paschall virtually to dig a little deeper into his background, his experiences, and the vital importance of queer visibility, especially in the field of architecture.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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A.L.: Hey, Larry!


Larry Paschall: Hey, how are you?


A.L.: Good, how are you? Happy Friday.


LP: Thank goodness. Floor is yours, I guess. What do you want to start with?


A.L.: I just wanted this to be kind of more casual and conversational. I don't know if you

saw the other blog posts on the blog yet.


LP: I'm in one of them, but it was before the holidays and Christmas.


A.L.: Yeah. Your name came up in one of them.


LP: Yeah, imagine that! I've made this comment to multiple people and it just stuck in my head.

I'm the senior gay.


A.L.: Yeah, you're the elder queer! How does that feel for you?


LP: That's fine. It's funny to think that there aren't enough people. I mean, I'm probably the most

visible person here, which seems really strange. It's a shame that it seems like I'm the only one.


A.L.: I guess I'm interested in kind of how you got so visible. Like if we go backwards in time—when did you come out? Were you out, like, in school?


LP: I came out many many moons ago.


A.L.: [laughter]


LP: I'm pretty much an open book. So we were doing the AIA Dallas Architecture on Tap back

in June for Pride last year. I'm sitting up there on this panel, and there's me, and four other people. The most experience on that panel was nine years. And then there was me. As of August of last year, I've been doing this for 25 years.


A.L.: 25!


LP: Yeah. Just me being like, oh my God, I'm getting so old!


But I was out the first day at the office—my very first job, very first day. How many times can you try to avoid saying the word boyfriend? Which is what my husband was at the time, my boyfriend. I was not going to song and dance around this.


I was out when I was finishing my degree at Texas A&M. I wasn't the only one. I was the only one who was out—there’s a difference. The firm I went to work for was fairly small and fairly liberal, and nobody batted an eye. At the first company event, I had no problem bringing my boyfriend.


But when did that become visible, so to speak? My old business partner and I started doing public speaking—our first event was November 2010 at the AIA Minnesota Conference. We talked about marketing because social media was starting to really pick up. Never thought I’d ever do public speaking. But by then, my old business partner and I were almost a year into doing a podcast, and we were used to talking with each other.


And so from there, it just got to be where we were doing multiple conferences and talking about different things. It became more difficult for my old business partner to travel for speaking gigs, but I wanted to keep speaking. It was fun for me.


So I put together this presentation called “Queer in Architecture.” I thought, you know what, I'm part of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce. At that point, around 2014, I was probably sitting on the Board. The first one was AIA Virginia because that's how I met Spencer Lepler, who was on the AIA Virginia Board. The presentation came through and he's like, we have to have this at our meeting. I don't care if I'm the only one that shows up, it's going to be part of our sessions. And I had about ten people show up, including Spencer.


I think I plugged that presentation five different times at five different conferences. ABX in Boston. Texas Society of Architects in Fort Worth, and a couple of other places. I went out on my own. In mid 2016, I started writing the Big Gay Architect blog.


I guess that's where the visibility comes from. But no one else was talking about this. We were having this grand conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. But every time you said it, everyone said Black or female. There was no other talk about Latinx people, other people of color, non-binary genders, anything like that. It was just women and Black people.


And that's our mindset. It's the ones the people have been historically ignored, right? But at the same time, for me, it was like, oh, these are the people that are visible. We can see your person. We can see that you're female, and we can see that you're Black. So we want to focus our attention there because that's visible for us.


But we need to push the conversation further than that—we have to recognize that there are other people. I think the weirdest comment I got ever was at an AIA Knowledge Community Conference. I had been asked to read the first three chapters of the Guides to Equitable Practice that AIA had published. I had meant to collect my comments, but I stood up and said to Robert Ivy: “We talk a lot about diversity, inclusion, but we still don't see people from the LGBTQ community. When are we going to start including them in the discussion?”


And he said to me, “I don't know that we've ever thought about it because the LGBTQ community has always been part of the profession, so we just assume you're already sort of integrated into the profession.”


I'm like, that's your answer to me?! If you mean closeted gay white men, then yes, we're integrated into the profession because there are plenty of those. But it absolutely floored me.


My hope for the Alliances is that the people who are part of them are making themselves visible, and they don’t see this as a detriment—that they can make a change if they go out there and do it. I know one of the guys in the Alliance is working with his firm to revamp their diversity policy because they hadn’t redone their employee handbook in 20 years or something. Which brings it back to me being the elder gay, right?


A.L.: You have all these stories within you.


LP: Yeah, all this information is just floating around. I also have all these other people’s stories, because I get to go to conferences and people will talk. There’s the nonbinary person who left their firm because the firm leadership couldn’t figure out how to introduce them at meetings. Oh my God. “This is Hunter. They’re going to be the project manager.” How hard is that? But the leadership was just that age that they didn’t know what to do. It made them uncomfortable when it shouldn’t have, which made Hunter uncomfortable. And so they left the firm and went somewhere else.


A.L.: Wow.


LP: There was a transgender man at the very first presentation I did who felt more comfortable with female leadership. Inevitably the question gets asked because he had changed his name to Blue. “Oh, that’s an interesting name. How did you come about that?” And then, of course, now he’s got to out himself.


A.L.: Yes. Now he’s telling the whole story!


LP: Yeah! I think part of it is that I’m a cisgender white male in a profession full of cisgender white men and has historically been cisgender white men. And so I have had far less grief. I fit the demographic stereotype for the architect in this profession. I’m 225 pounds, six-foot-two, rolling onto a job site, and people don’t put me and gay together. So I think I’ve had that advantage. In some ways it sounds terrible to say that out loud.


A.L.: But it’s true. Identity is partially how you define yourself, but then it’s also how others perceive you, right? And where that person is coming from and projecting onto you.


LP: Yeah. So I get to be this repository for everyone’s stories. I feel kind of bad.


A.L.: Well, it’s a gift and a curse. People tell you these stories—but do you feel comfortable retelling them to lift their voices up?


LP: I have no problem with telling them because I think it’s important that people hear them. If they aren’t telling them to other people, then let me do that at least, so when I’m talking to people, I can share their experiences. I don’t have that same shared experience, but I have the knowledge that uncomfortable and unjust situations are happening.


A.L.: So you would say that in your experience being out, do you think it's affected your career at all?


LP: No. That constant outing—no, mostly the firms I’ve worked for have been very open and very accepting. And since 2008, I’ve essentially worked for myself in one capacity or another. The reality is, even client-wise, if you Google me, you’re going to see everything that I’ve got: The Big Gay Architect Blog, my Instagram, I used to have a Twitter, my speaking stuff. So if you, as a client, think you’re going to be uncomfortable working with a gay man, then don’t.


One of the things that you asked in your email was, “How do you identify?” And I think that’s an interesting question. I’m old enough that when I was really starting to accept the fact that I’m gay, you had gay and lesbian. You had two choices. You fit into one of those categories, and if you’re lucky, you weren’t being called fag or dyke. Which is why I like the word queer—because to me, queer encompasses anything under the rainbow, anywhere on the Kinsey scale.

"...because to me, queer encompasses anything under the rainbow..."

A.L.: Yeah, it’s a beautiful umbrella term! What does a queer community look like for you, inside or outside of architecture?


LP: My queer community is my friends. Professionally, I don’t have a lot of queer connections. I mean, queer architects don’t tend to make themselves visible. It’s that, “Oh, well, I’m an architect first and I’m queer second.” I’m like, honey, you are not queer second. I don’t know any Black architects who will tell you they are an architect first and Black second. They are a Black architect. You are a queer architect, and you need to deal with that.


But of course, a lot of people are uncomfortable being out for whatever reasons, but hopefully that is changing. There are so many kids coming out of school who identify as queer, and they always have and life has been good for them—they didn’t go through the whole AIDS pandemic, they didn’t go through the fight for gay marriage. And now you really expect them to come work for you and go crawling back into the closet? I don’t think you can. So I’m hoping things in the profession change.


A.L.: Yeah. There are a lot of current students and recent graduates who are queer. It kind of makes sense when you’re at school, in a more experimental space. You’re learning architecture, and about yourself—you’re not solely focused on doing the job.


LP: Yeah, exactly. Once you’re working, you’re thinking: I need to keep this job. I’ve got to pay off my student loans. I have to keep my health insurance.


But what does it say that we are still thinking of it that way? In spite of all the progress we’ve made as a society, people go to work and still feel like they can’t be their authentic selves. Which makes me think—how much pressure does that put on someone? How much energy does it take to deal with making sure you’re not outing yourself day in and day out? And how much does that affect your work performance?


A.L.: Exactly. Your overall wellbeing.

Well that is a lot to think about, and will give readers a lot to chew on. You hit on some really relevant points, and I hope to continue the conversation with you soon. Thanks for chatting with me, Larry.


LP: Let me know if you need anything else. And I’m sure we’ll talk again at some point.


A.L.: Yeah, we’ll talk again soon!


LP: Imagine that! Okay, bye!


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Interested in sharing your story? Looking to connect further with a growing community of LGBTQIA+ architects and design professionals, drop us an email at hello@pridebydesign.org!

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