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Space, Place, & Pride: Moving Beyond the Binary, Evolving Inclusion

By Breeze Outlaw, ASLA (They/them & Zie/zir)

Pride and Queer spaces

Pride, celebrated around the world in public spaces, commemorates the cusp of liberation for the LGBTQIA community. It is a month where the chosen family of a community comes together in public spaces to embrace love, identity, and self-worth, while simultaneously dismantling patriarchal societal norms. On streets and sidewalks people parade and dance, dressed as their authentic selves, flamboyant in shiny rainbow regalia. This is a space of acceptance. A place where the demonstration of love is amplified in its most raw, genuine form. Public spaces show support by displaying colorful flags and messages of acceptance.

Pride is a powerful demonstration of taking up space, occupying space, and demanding dignity. However, these spaces are not always safe, accepting, or equitable. Space for LGBTQIA has historically been contested, violent, and inequitable—especially to those from black and brown communities.

I am a black, queer, non-binary, gender-nonconforming-identifying landscape designer who often reflects on the relationship between gender and the built environment. Nearly two years ago, I claimed my gender identity and pronouns to represent my authentic self in both the built environment and the profession of landscape architecture.

Boston Pride 2019 / Billy E., Acoustic USA

As a profession that designs for the public realm, landscape architecture cannot guarantee safety in spaces. However, there are ways that landscape architecture can support LGBTQIA folks in the built environment by acknowledging how gender and identity influence how someone navigates. By understanding the validity of pronouns in spaces, and how gender neutrality fosters more inclusive practices in the profession, we can cultivate strong, positive support for this marginalized community.

An imperative framework for the discussion of gender is intersectionality. This framework acknowledges and honors the complexity of gender and its connection to systems of power and oppression that impact those marginalized in society. Activist and educator Ericka Hart said it best: “Intersectionality is not to be confused with diversity and inclusion but a consideration in which people of color, particularly the BIPOC / QTPOC community, are seen, supported, and safe in spaces.”

Gender Binary, Identity, and Space
There have been and are successful precedents of LGBTQIA leadership in landscape architecture. Their successes range from leading successful firms to proposing professional conference sessions that center queerness in urbanism. Today, the contemporary practice of landscape architecture requires a shift that extends beyond diversity and moves towards equitable and just representation. This representation acknowledges gender and identities outside of heteronormative norms or cisgender identities.

In designing spaces, there are still gaps in understanding what it means to design spaces that include queerness. In the context of this article, the use of queer/queerness is interchangeable with LGBTQIA. Often, when it comes to designing spaces, folks who identify outside the gender binary are omitted because it is assumed that everyone navigates spaces the same way. This is false. The gender binary is a gender system that generally recognizes only two genders, male and female. Surprisingly or not, there are more than two and even more than four genders. These gender variant folks come from all backgrounds, values, and beliefs.

Boston Pride 2019 / Sasaki Associates, Inc.

Gender identity
, which does not inform sexuality, influences the way someone experiences space.

Traditionally, heteronormative norms are inherent in frameworks of what is seen as good design. Without the understanding of how LGBTQIA folks navigate space, these frameworks can feel threatening and perpetuate exclusion and inequity. Gender is fluid and separate from sexual or romantic orientation. It is not to be confused with the sex of a person, or more appropriately, the assigned sex at birth of a person. Individuals have the right to choose their gender identity as they see fit to represent themselves to the world.

Breeze with flower - 2
Breeze Outlaw exploring the landscape of Mount Baker, Washington / Breeze Outlaw

As a black, queer, non-binary, gender-nonconforming-identifying person, I am hyperaware of spaces that I occupy. A simple task such as visiting public restrooms can be a hassle. In some cases, spatial cues such as scale, circulation patterns, and enclosures within space can be overwhelming. Unintentionally, the expression of designed spaces can feel threatening can feel threatening in such a way that an occupant feels unable to leave, and therefore unsafe. Misgendering is another experience that occurs in spaces. It is a frequent experience for me, when in spaces outside of my queer community. It often leaves me feeling unseen and disrespected.

Gender-Neutral Pronouns

The phrase ‘preferred pronouns’ is often used, but for the sake of intentional inclusion, pronouns are simply pronouns, and as long as someone has shared their pronouns, that person should be acknowledged and addressed properly. There are various pronouns in the queer community. All reinforce the way folks want to be seen and acknowledged by others.

Gender-neutral pronouns—such as my pronouns: they/them or zie/zir—are genderless. There are many gender-neutral pronouns and many reasons why folks use them. Gender-neutral pronouns are not exclusively used for queer folks. The use of gender-neutral pronouns disrupts the traditional gender binary of male and female and cultivates a practice that is inclusive of all identities without assuming gender. In any case, gender pronouns are exclusively an individual’s choice.

Gender-neutral Pronouns / LA Johnson, NPR

Some people are unfamiliar with pronouns or identities outside the gender binary and are unsure of how to engage someone with gender-neutral pronouns. The commencement of this interaction is unique to the individual—some folks would welcome being asked how to properly be addressed, while in other cases, folks would rather not be engaged. There are various reasons, but sometimes folks simply exercise boundaries to avoid being made to feel like a spectacle. For myself, I let people know my pronouns as I introduce myself to spaces. In addition, my pronouns are always displayed next to my name in all formats. This helps to reaffirm myself in space while also claiming space to be noticed.

Folks identifying within the gender binary should acknowledge and be aware of privilege when expecting a queer person to explain their pronouns or identity. This is labor that gender-nonconforming people do not owe anyone.

As a general practice, this will create a space that relieves the LGBTQIA community of the burden to always demand basic respect. In addition, a valuable practice is to seek out resources and research answers that are readily available via the Internet.

Cultivate Safer Spaces*
The built environment and traditional office culture have always been male-dominated, and the dynamics of inequity among genders exacerbated. To cultivate environments that move beyond diversity and towards equitable, just representation, we must challenge social norms and design frameworks that are inherently exclusionary.

The expectations that have been established in gender roles are limiting and irrelevant. They create a competitive condition that excludes genders beyond the binary and reinforces systems of oppression. It is best that when designing inclusive, just space, designers should challenge their own assumptions and the biases of heteronormative norms that perpetuate exclusion and instead consciously manifest inclusive values that engage space for everyone.

*The terms ‘safe space’ and ‘safer space’ are always aspirational because we can never fully guarantee safety within any built space. In this context, we will use this term to center and discuss that aspiration, while also acknowledging the ways in which reality falls short of our ideals

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