In celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride, CallisonRTKL is discussing inclusive spaces and sharing voices of members of the queer community. Even within the LGBTQ+ community, there will be diverse experiences. True inclusion must also take into consideration other groups based on race, religion, ethnicity, age, disability or economic status as well as gender identity and sexual orientation.
The voices in this article represent only a subsection of the community. More voices need to be heard, and even more importantly, those voices need to have a seat at the table where the decisions are made.
Stopping to use the restroom, whether at work, in a mall or on the road, shouldn’t be riddled with anxiety. But for members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender and other gender non-conforming individuals, it is. If you are cisgender, you probably never realized, nor could you imagine the anguish and extra steps involved in navigating this basic human need on a daily basis.
“I get harassed quite regularly,” says Nomi Cooper, a designer and transgender woman in CRTKL’s Retail practice area. “Using a restroom can be an uncomfortable experience. You have to decide if it’s safe to use the restroom depending on the establishment, how busy the restroom is and where it is located.”
Any discussion about inclusive spaces needs to begin with restrooms. This issue is fraught. But does it have to be?
Designs for inclusive restrooms already exist. Single-occupancy restrooms, stalls with a toilet and sink, or multi-stalls with private, floor-to-ceiling compartments and lockable doors facing a row of sinks, are all gender-neutral options. And, in addition to providing a solution for transgender and nonbinary people, these restrooms accommodate many other situations: parents with children, aides with seniors, and caregivers with people with disabilities. We all can benefit from inclusive, gender-neutral environments.
Designing spaces for inclusivity—whether an office, a hotel, a healthcare clinic or a retail store—is always more successful if diverse voices are sharing their stories. We’ve asked four CRTKL designers to do just that.
“Clothes shopping in the past has been a difficult experience,” says Nomi. “Trying clothes on can be tough. Getting looks from other customers, or even employees, really turns me off of the experience.”
What makes a store welcoming? Designing fitting rooms with floor-to-ceiling partition, which adds privacy, helps. Equally important is the placement of these rooms. Instead of putting changing rooms on either side of the store, so that they are perceived to be men’s or women’s, place them in more centrally located areas, on neutral territory.
Signage is important too: a small LGBTQ+ safe place sticker or Pride flag affixed to the front of a store. But friendly, well-trained employees are key to creating an inviting experience.
“I’m pretty self-conscious,” says Nomi. “Say ‘Hello, welcome to the store.’ Offer to help.”
Every year more and more retailers are trying to show support for the LGBTQ+ community. “If you want to support our community, then hire more LGBTQ+ people,” Nomi continues. “Seeing people like me working in a store helps me to feel more comfortable and demonstrates the company’s commitment to inclusivity. I cannot think of anything the exemplifies this support more than actually being a diverse organization. You can’t fake that.”
“When my husband and I plan a vacation, we look for gay-friendly destinations in the city we are visiting, which is an extra step most people don’t realize gay people take,” says Joel Camden, an associate in CRTKL’s Hospitality practice.
“Will people stare if I walk down the street holding hands with my husband? How accepting will the staff be when I book one room for the two of us with a king-size bed?”
When businesses show their support, when advertisements and promotions by hotels, attractions and restaurants feature members of the LGBTQ+ community, family scenes with same-sex couples, it’s a sign that the experience will be inclusive. And the more they show their support, the more it becomes the norm.
“When you’re traveling, when you see that the staff in a restaurant or hotel is diverse, when you see someone you can relate to by how they dress or if they’re wearing a Pride lapel pin, it helps lighten the mood,” says Joel.
The cruise industry now offers gay-friendly cruises. Gay Days at Disney World attract more than 100,00 gay and lesbian travelers to Orlando. “In a way, it’s positive that we’re finding vacation getaways that are gay-friendly,” says Joel. “In another way, it’s sad that we have to.”
Some cities and towns are more welcoming than others. San Francisco and New York City are widely recognized to be LGBTQ+-friendly, and neighborhoods such as Chicago’s Boystown or Philadelphia’s Gayborhood are well-known, popular areas to visit.
Earlier this month, the City of Delray Beach in South Florida celebrated an exuberant, LGBTQ+-inspired design at a major intersection with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in honor of Pride. Just days later, skid marks defaced the art installation, an intentional act of vandalism and hate.
We can’t always design our way out of discrimination and prejudice, but we can continue to try.
“There is so much I take for granted as a cisgender woman,” says Julie Mendoza, a CRTKL medical planner in the Healthcare practice area and LGBTQ+ ally. Julie heads CRTKL’s Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee for the firm’s Women in Leadership Committee.
“Simply filling out healthcare forms at a medical clinic is a minefield if you are nonbinary or transgender and the only boxes to check off are male or female.”
Earlier in her career, Julie led an innovation team to meet the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Section 1557, which stipulated that to receive federal funds, hospitals could not discriminate in regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I will never truly understand what members of the LGBTQ+ community face. But the research I’ve done in healthcare clearly shows that there are many areas where we can do better to design spaces that promote inclusivity and improve health equity.”
A large percentage of transgender people put off preventive care or treatment because of the fear of physical, verbal and sexual abuse within the healthcare system. This has a negative impact on their overall health outcomes, and important screenings might be skipped.
“We need to provide education to healthcare workers. Many doctors have not received the education they need to adequately treat transgender healthcare issues and other healthcare needs among members in the LGBTQ+ community.”
To support improved health in the transgender and nonbinary community, we can make diagnostic departments that provide screenings specific to your anatomy—prostate cancer, cervical and breast cancer—gender-neutral, to reduce the fear of going into those spaces. For example, instead of calling a department the “Women’s Breast Center,” it could be referred to as the “Diagnostic Imaging Center.”
Medical clinics can install single-occupancy restrooms with gender-neutral signage; design changing rooms that are private, with doors and floor to ceiling partitions rather than curtains; ask for sex, gender and preferred pronouns on healthcare intake forms and offer telemedicine visits to remove the need to be in an uncomfortable environment.
Mental health and wellness access is extremely important, especially for the transgender population, due to the shocking rates of trauma and abuse. According to The Trevor Project, 48% of LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24 reported engaging in self-harm, including over 60% of transgender and nonbinary youth. Because mental healthcare can still carry a stigma in certain communities, integrating it into primary and outpatient care provides access to everyone, LGBTQ+ or not, who is seeing a therapist or other mental health support.
“There were times when colleagues suggested that I reign in my personality, concerned that the client might perceive me as gay,” says Michael Horton, an associate principal in CRTKL’s Workplace practice area. “I think there is a possibility they didn’t fully understand the impact their words made, but I wished they knew how hurtful it was. I felt that it wasn’t my skills or my determination that was the concern—it was who I was that was the issue.” Subtle acts of discrimination like this one, known as microaggressions, are not uncommon in the LGBTQ+ community and affect mental health.
As remote workers return to the office in the coming months, wellness—including physical, emotional and mental health—is a priority. To make the workplace more welcoming and inclusive, it will be important to reconsider company policies, healthcare benefits, dress codes, office events as well as education and training to prevent or at least curtail acts of microaggression.
“COVID taught us to look at the workplace in fresh new ways,” says Michael. “Even before the pandemic, our focus was on attracting and retaining staff. People want to work someplace that aligns with personal values and where they themselves feel valued.”
The LGBTQ+ community, like the members of Black Lives Matter and the #Me Too movement, are asking: “Is there diversity in my office and my firm? Am I represented at a leadership level? Do the people making the decisions represent or at least have an understanding of my concerns, my values and my needs?”
From a design perspective, that means that spaces must cater to a diverse staff.
The open office, in many ways, helped create a lot more neutrality within the office space by giving equal availability to natural light with glass walls and moving offices inboard, lowering walls between individuals to allow more open space, and creating more flexibility to adapt to shifting dynamics and program needs.
“The problem is, people work in different styles and different ways,” says Michael. “A one-size-fits-all solution still doesn’t always work best for the collective whole. The key to celebrating diversity is a variety-based approach to work styles that accommodates issues of privacy, comfort, safety, and productivity.”
Uncomplicated access to a restroom in an office building or workplace is one sign of inclusivity. CRTKL’s Government practice area is in the process of designing gender-neutral, single-occupancy restrooms in the office space of a large government project in Washington, D.C. We can’t always design our way out of discrimination. But we can design for diversity and inclusion.