Queerness in Seattle: Living at the Intersection of Identity and Design

Clare Sausen June 29, 2022

In celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride, we’re profiling industry professionals in CRTKL’s Seattle office to see how queer identity and design aesthetics intersect in their city and in their lives.

Lucy Baraquio, Principal and Seattle Office Leader

What qualities do you believe an office needs for queer people to feel safe at work?

Lucy Baraquio: The first one that comes to mind is that it should be very welcoming. Starting with a culture of mutual respect and grounded in open communication channels, people should be encouraged to speak up and have the opportunity to authentically express themselves however they feel most comfortable. The whole culture of our office is very inclusive and accepting. Those qualities are built into our DNA. It’s not just for the queer community, but in general, there’s a focus on humanity in our office; we’re very people-first. 

What does taking “pride” in your identity look like for you?

LB: I am generally a private person, so I’m not always out there touting my personal identity – whether that be as a woman, a person of color, or someone in the queer community. Those are integrated into everything that I do. Naturalizing my identity as a queer woman is how I take pride in who I am. I don’t shy away from conversations about my journey or my marriage or how I came to understand and identify with my queerness later in life. I don’t necessarily highlight that, but when I think about this question, I think of it the same way as I do about taking pride in any other aspect of myself – for me that looks like really owning it, being open and confident.

I don’t shy away from gently reminding people in conversations where they make heteronormative assumptions about me. At a winery recently, the winemaker was talking about different products, and he said, looking right at me, “You could have this wine with your husband after dinner.” So, I said, “Or my wife!” And he was like, “Oh, right!” It’s about being assertive when it’s appropriate, not being aggressive, but reminding people to be mindful of the potential diversity in the audience they’re talking to. I do that at work and in meetings, and I say something when someone says something potentially offensive. I’ll call out problematic behavior, but in a way that isn’t defensive or unappreciative of people’s differing perspectives.

How have you leveraged your leadership position to support the LGBTQ+ community?

LB: The AEC community is notorious for being not queer-friendly. This month especially, I’m aiming to make more efforts to remind people that we’re a queer-friendly office. We’re still not as in person as we used to be — we once had a timeline of pride history on the walls and large office celebrations so, in lieu of that, we have virtual interactions and engage queer people in discussions about how we should commemorate this month. We’re having drag bingo this week with the current Mr. Gay World Washington as our guest host! I want to give our community a stage and allow people to explore it for themselves.  I think that happens more now than it used to, and I feel very proud of that.

 How does the unique culture of Seattle influence the work and values of our office there?

LB: It’s a part of everything we do. Our original office grew out of a Seattle-focused partnership with Nordstrom, and their culture of human-first, customer service and people-friendly interactions has permeated our culture from the very beginning. Our office has been involved with some of the most recognized companies in the world, many of which are based in Seattle – we have that disruptive, forward-thinking culture. With that comes a very welcoming and progressive, community-focused approach. We embody that.

We’ve evolved through the years as Seattle has and have been influenced by the huge community of queer people here. There is a lot of support and representation, and our gay neighborhood on Capitol Hill is visually obvious, with rainbows and pride flags. We still have a long way to go in terms of that fully permeating the AEC community, though.

I think the inclusivity of Seattle is a big part of why more and more young people want to come here. This is a community where people thrive. Sitting here in our office with a view of Elliott Bay and the Space Needle – everything people know about Seattle is visible from where we sit. We value that and treasure our roots and our association with everything that Seattle is. We have a long history of activism and of campaigning for equality and diversity in our city.

The city started in Pioneer Square, and Seattle is actually built on top of the underground city. This original city was constantly flooded and became overrun with structural and public health issues, so after the fire of 1889 they abandoned it and built the next city 12 feet higher – you can still take a tour and see the old buildings underground. There are a  bunch of brothels and speakeasies, but what really struck me was the gay bar down there, which opened in the 1930’s.  It was called The Double Header, and it may have been the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the United States until it closed in December 2015.  It was known all around the West Coast in the 30’s as the only safe and free place for queer people.

Also, in the late ‘60s, a professor at the University of Washington created The Dorian Society  – a group that supported gay rights and represented the gay community in a positive light. Providing a safe set of resources, they went on to lobby for new laws and equity for queer people when laws were very prohibitive.

There has been so much activism starting from the earliest days of our city and continues to grow and grow. The Pride parade is coming back this year too, which usually brings 300,000+ people every year. I feel very fortunate that this is the nature of my city. I feel a lot of compassion for queer people in cities that are much less accepting and where similar communities aren’t so well established and working environments aren’t so inclusive. Our “Seattle bubble” has created an opportunity for me, as a leader, to be open and public about what we do locally and to set an example for us worldwide. Do as Seattle does, “Be who you are and celebrate it!”

Doug Shaw, Associate Principal; Jenna Ryan, Associate; Nomi Cooper, Senior Designer

What does queer culture look like for you in Seattle?

Doug Shaw, Associate Principal: When I first moved to Seattle, Capitol Hill was the gay-friendly, hipster-localized community. I lived there for the first 18 years I was there. Since then, it’s really spread out. We started close to Broadway, then, as you get older, you move up the Hill where it’s slightly quieter and you get more sleep. Housing and houses are cheaper – or, at least, they were then. Now, after moving away from Capitol Hill, I’ve moved back, and it’s a much more mixed community; I like that energy and social aspect. I moved here in 1990 —

Jenna Ryan, Associate: Woah, that was the prime!

DS: {Laughs} It definitely was the center of the community. There wasn’t really internet, so we meet people on the street. It’s a more diverse community now – there’s renewed energy, openness, and acceptance. There are so many varieties of people and lifestyles. There’s colorful clothing, color on the streets, Pride flags in business’ windows. It’s visually and graphically much more evident in that neighborhood the promotion of acceptance. That’s what I like to be around.

JR: Queer culture, in general, is so resourceful and resilient. For me, also living in Capitol Hill for many years, we mostly operated in underground spaces. They were hole-in-the-wall, back-alley spots that you couldn’t go in unless another queer person brought you there, and then you have to go a few more times to become a member and bring others. But all that hassle is meant to ensure the creation of safe spaces, not to be an elite experience. People could go to these places and wear what they want, be who they want to be, and they knew they would be safe there.

Nomi Cooper, Senior Designer: I live where Doug said you start out — on Capitol Hill. I moved from the Midwest, and when I was looking for a place to live, it was important to me to have a robust gayborhood where I could feel comfortable. I do worry about the queer housing crisis here – statistically, queer people are less financially stable, so as places in Seattle continue to grow more unaffordable, the community is at risk.

To Jenna’s point, underground spaces are kind of coming back after the pandemic. You still get that really solid sense of community in those iconic queer spaces. I have a friend from London who is also a trans woman, and she told me while it remains a contentious political issue, there’s not as strong sense of a sense pride or queer-focused spaces in their city. In Seattle, you’ll see a sticker in the window or a flag at almost every business that recognizes the community – even outside of downtown. I think that recognition makes our city feel a lot more welcoming.

 Tell me a bit about the evolution of queer spaces in the city, from your perspective.

JR: Like all great artist hubs, Capitol Hill used to have a much more raw feeling that it does now. That rawness still exists, but I see the queer spaces being utilized by heteronormative culture as a getaway space, but not really entering those places with respect. An example that comes to mind is when straight women come to a lesbian bar for a bachelorette party, then get offended if they get hit on by a woman. This is a space for us, this is supposed to be safe and okay. Not all spaces are for you, that doesn’t mean you can’t be included, but if you come, come correct. These bars can turn from a safe space to a tourist space.

NC: I echo that, Jenna. There are certainly places I don’t feel comfortable anymore. I went to a queer bar once to see a drag show, and a straight woman harassed me. It’s work for a community that’s already marginalized in that space.

JR: This community wants to be inclusive, but it wants people to come with an awareness of how to show up as an ally — not as someone who’s causing harm.

DS: In the early ‘90s, bars and clubs were more exclusive – you didn’t see that mixing of gay and straight nightlife, if you did, it was an anomaly. Now, that neighborhood is changing and becoming more diverse – there are high-rise, large, high-rent apartment buildings with connections to other neighborhoods through the light rail, so that can cause a bit of a cultural clash.

NC: I live in a building like that which is really mixed, but it still has a lot of queer people. I think something that’s refreshing about Seattle is that popular queer culture is often centered around a cis, gay male perspective, but here, there are so many more queer women, POC, disabled people, trans people and nonbinary people. The city really encapsulates a more diverse queer community.

DS: I kind of represent the older (not old! older) gay community, a lot of my friends and I just want to have a regular, quiet life — you get a partner, or you don’t, and you just want to get away from the wear and tear of the Capitol Hill clubs and street noise. Most of what I do is dinner parties or home parties where you can really connect with people, more than in a club, and be more present with your friends. Queer people have a habit of creating their own families. It’s a great filter if you’re queer because you know pretty much right away if someone is cool with you or not.

How can we work to preserve those spaces while creating new ones?

DS: There’s this new space called the AIDS Memorial Pathway, which is a space that honors early AIDS activism in the ‘80s and ‘90s. There’s a new development that has a courtyard center and public space, they brought in different artists to create sculptural elements. There are signs up about ACT UP planted around the park. That’s a cool, modern way of preserving our history. In our culture today, we sometimes try to erase the history to fit the narrative of what’s going on now, and I think that this preserves what was relevant in that era that brought us all up to where we are now.

JR: We’re so quick to date things or generationally say, “that’s so old school or irrelevant.” We’re doing that now with Boomers – there’s a lot of shame and we don’t want to be like them and they screwed everything up. Within queer culture, I honor the people who fought for their right to call themselves a lesbian, for example. Multiple generations can exist together, learn from one another and respect one another. Capitol Hill caters to a specific generation, when you get older you go off and have the dinner parties like Doug mentioned – it would be cool if there was more space for people of all ages to come together. That does happen during Pride. Another cool space is Gay City – a library in Capitol Hill for queer literature and a coffee shop that hosts queer events. A lot of those places have a hard time thriving amongst Starbucks and big corporations, but for me, as someone who works on corporate accounts, I wish I saw the wealth that these corporations have supporting their neighbors and sharing the wealth of their companies to allow both spaces to exist – not pushing people out. That’s a whole different model from capitalism.

 How can the queer community find resiliency despite continued hardship?

DS: Queer culture is resilient and flexible by nature of their survival instinct. In my daily life, I venture out and then I go back to my majority queer friends – I come back to my close community. That’s a part of my coping and resiliency — being around people who want to support me and who are like me. There’s power and strength in sticking together and supporting each other. You can experience some pretty offensive things –even today people just say offensive comments to me out of the blue on my way to work. When I experience that daily, I want to reconnect with supportive people who know what it’s like. Our own families and communities are that sense of support.

JR: I think the way we create queer families, oftentimes, is in such a nontraditional way that it can be challenging not to question, “Why am I doing it like this? Why don’t I do it the way I’ve seen it done? This is what families and friendships are supposed to look like.” I just ended a long relationship, and they are my family no matter what – even through rough patches like these. In heteronormative culture, when there’s a breakup, you shut that person out of your life and never see them again. Queer communities are different because we create families that are irreplaceable. I may want to push that person away at first, but what I really want is connection and having that person in my life in a different way. In our community, we allow people to change their identity and sexuality and we make space for that.

NC: I think, speaking of family, a lot of us have been rejected from our biological families, so that creates space for a new family built on acceptance and love comprised of people who have been through similar things. The people you create that family with aren’t disposable.

JR: The piece that I understand and know deeply is, in order to have and mend those relationships that break, it takes a lot of self-reflection. You need to stand in your own self-confidence that even if it didn’t work out, you can work through this and not just cut this person off, but discover something so much richer there than just that romantic connection – it’s that vulnerability that you shared when together. Facing it instead of avoiding it – that’s resiliency. We’re going through the fire instead of around it.


Author Spotlight

Clare Sausen
Clare Sausen is a Content Writer for CRTKL. Based in Washington, D.C., she leverages her personal and professional experience in journalism, radio, and nonprofit communication to serve as a valuable member of the global firmwide team. Since attaining her Bachelor of Arts degree from George Washington University in Communication and American Studies, she has honed her craft of architectural storytelling across multiple platforms. Her work appears in outlets such as Broccoli Magazine, Sackville & Co, Building Construction + Design Magazine, Where's Weed, High Times Magazine, Medical Construction + Design Magazine, NORML Blog, The Lounge, You Are Here, and WRGW Music Blog.