HKS Honors Pride Month: Uplifting our LGBTQ+ Community and Working Toward More Inclusive Design

Every June, the United States honors Pride month, a commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which took place when a police invasion of the now-infamous queer club set off protests across New York City in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Today, Pride isn’t just about recognition; it’s an unapologetic celebration of life and all of the milestones that the LGBTQ+ community has fought for and achieved since Stonewall — and a reminder of the continuing fight for equality.

We asked six of our LGBTQ+ employees — all of whom are working to expand HKS inclusion efforts through our Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) initiatives — to reflect on Pride and the important contributions LGBTQ+ individuals make to design. Their heartfelt responses offer insight for us all on how we can elevate underrepresented voices in our profession to better serve our communities.

What does Pride mean to you? How are you celebrating this year?

Matt Guinta (he/him) — Project Architect; Detroit

Pride means being one’s truest self, only to receive and give love and acceptance. This June, my fiancé and I will be celebrating at our local community’s Pride March and attending a same-sex wedding since most of Detroit’s events are postponed until Fall 2021.

Braden Reid (she/her) — Senior Consultant, Advisory; Boston & Washington, D.C.

Pride means honoring those who could not live their fullest truest lives along the arc of recent history, and then hugging the people who fill you with love in recognition of everyone who made it possible to freely feel that love.

Zac Rudd (he/him) — Job Captain; Dallas

Though I certainly enjoy the “pomp and circumstance” of a festive Pride parade, I feel the real joy happens a little bit every day in the fact that I am proud to be me and a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Yiselle Santos-Rivera (she/her) — Global Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.); Washington, D.C.

Our existence for many is still an act of rebellion. “Celebrating” pride for me is advocacy and an opportunity to increase visibility through representation. I’m celebrating Pride with friends this year by attending one of Washington, D.C.’s “Taste of Pride Brunch” participating restaurants, which will host a Drag Brunch to support our local D.C. drag community.

Tobias Startup (he/him) — Regional HR Business Leader; London

Pride is a protest, but it is also a celebration that we (LGBTQ+ people) are here despite everything that has been thrown at us. This commitment to celebrating life feels important this Pride month, not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because we marked the five-year anniversary of the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Five years ago, we gathered in London on Old Compton Street (the center of the gay community in the city) and stood in vigil, in grief, in outrage and in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ siblings to mark this tragedy. This month, I will be remembering all of those 49 people who were tragically murdered because of hate and all of those worldwide who continue to be murdered, abused, ridiculed and made to feel less than, by being who they were meant to be.

Sarah Nelson-Woynicz (she/her) — Architect; Atlanta

For me, Pride month is a celebration of visibility and the ability to show up as one’s true, authentic self — and all of the work others have done and continue to do to break down barriers to that opportunity and ownership of identity. While I am not certain how I will celebrate this year, I do find myself encouraged and driven to speak out, be out and be proud.

What unique and important perspectives do LGBTQ+ individuals bring to design processes and outcomes?

Guinta: I do not assume my experience and perspective is the same as anyone other human, regardless of similarities. As someone who did not match-up to society’s default settings, I approach teams with a focus on intentional listening, ubiquitous participation and psychological safety.

Reid: We help to challenge — and hopefully break down — many of the social constructs that our cities and buildings have traditionally been built on, from design aesthetics to the functions of space and everything in between.

Startup: Each team member brings their own unique perspectives and approaches, not just by being LGBTQ+, but based on their cultural background, experiences, religion, socio-economic status, personality, etc. It is this wide diversity within our people and our teams that helps us better understand, challenge and meet the needs of our clients and projects’ end users. Diverse teams mean diverse approaches. Diverse thought means more considered design. Diverse opinions help us to solve a design challenge. If we as a firm can build belonging, psychological safety and enable our LGBTQ+ employees to flourish we will be better at our craft, more innovative, more profitable and more successful.

How is HKS working to support and include the LGBTQ+ community as a company?

Rudd: It’s evolving. I’m thankful for the opportunities and advocacy the HKS J.E.D.I. group offer. We have many great things on the horizon.

Startup: HKS has taken steps to be inclusive from a policy and benefits perspective for LGBTQ+ staff and we internally marked Pride month starting last year. We have undertaken mandatory Respect in the Workplace and Bias training and look forward to more work ahead.

Santos-Rivera: HKS is elevating the voices of our firmwide LGBTQ+ community members by featuring them on our website and social media. Over the last year, many of us have created LGBTQ+ Pride-oriented presentations that shed light on the origins of Pride and shared personal experiences —all of which have been distributed through our internal communications channels. We have also expanded our employee human resources reporting categories to include sexual orientation, gender identities, pronouns, and we added non-binary to our gender category options. We reviewed and revised our company literature to use gender neutral pronouns and we are working on adding pronouns to our employee signatures. We are also excited about upcoming research project around equity and the LGBTQ+ community that will help us create greater inclusion and impact in our project work.

How can architects and designers contribute to building more inclusive communities?

Reid: We can start by empathizing with the diversity of people who exist in the communities we build. You cannot responsibly design a space unless you understand the needs of both the majority and minority groups who will use it. This directive should be implicit in the health, safety and wellness of the people for whom we design.

Rudd: Our most impactful contributions will be rooted in our own humility of seeking knowledge of the communities for whom we design. The power of vulnerability is electrifying.

Nelson-Woynicz: Both within myself and among my peers, I am finding that we are driven not just by business, but by social responsibility. When we approach the design process from a place of not only who, but also how a project will impact people and make sure everyone is a part of the conversation, then we begin with an opportunity to contribute to building more inclusive communities.

Our most impactful contributions will be rooted in our own humility of seeking knowledge of the communities for whom we design.

There’s always room for growth and advancement in our profession. What can we do to ensure underrepresented colleagues — such as those in the LGBTQ+ community — feel seen, heard, and celebrated?

Guinta: Our profession and its education process have a steep acculturation process, so we are often conditioned to try to “fit-in” and model ourselves into a school or firm. If we can be honest and loving to ourselves, we can do so for others, regardless of the world around us. That will result in positive momentum and hopefully, further representation.

Santos-Rivera: We must continuously create spaces that encourage people to be visible, to be authentic and use their lived experience to educate others. We should encourage people use data and metrics to goal set and strategize on how to develop paths into leadership roles for people of all underrepresented groups, especially those within the LGBTQIA+ community to make the invisible visible, because invisible differences do make a difference.

Nelson-Woynicz: Visibility, creating space for someone to be authentically themselves, is a great place to begin (and seems to be something that resonates with me this year in particular). I recently participated in a survey of queer designers and architects where the question was asked – “Who is a queer designer you look up to?” It hit me that many of those I learned about at my university were not those I could identify with and in fact, my response was to say that those I look up to in the profession that identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community are actually my colleagues and peers. While it would seem the needle is moving when I can look beside and just ahead of me to see that visibility and representation, it also shows we still have work to do.

We must continuously create spaces that encourage people to be visible, to be authentic and use their lived experience to educate others.