This month CallisonRTKL is speaking with members of the firm’s LGBTQ+ community to celebrate their voices and honor Pride. Today we are talking to Jenna Ryan, a Senior Designer for Specialty Retail in CRTKL’s Seattle office.
Jenna, how would you like to be identified for this article?
I identify as a queer, cisgender woman who prefers she/her pronouns.
When I came of age, the word “queer” was a pejorative. Can you explain further what identifying as queer means vs. gay or lesbian?
That’s a good question—and an important one! Queer is a term that has been reclaimed by my generation. It is meant to be more inclusive and all-encompassing rather than specific to one’s sexuality. Queer includes gender expression as well as sexuality. Gay and lesbian identities are still widely accepted in my community. Lesbian specifically though is seen by some as a limiting term specific to cis women who partner with other cis women. My community honors and respects the term lesbian as coined by our elders who fought for the right to even BE women who love women publicly, and at the same time are evolving our language to reflect ourselves and our relationships.
Would you share your story with us?
Yes, I think it’s important to share my personal experience as a queer person in our industry.
As someone who appears traditionally feminine, I am offered many of the privileges that come with looking like a gender-conforming straight white woman.
By not looking visibly queer, I’m generally not subjected to harassment for my sexuality or gender expression. I’m not discriminated against for not presenting within my gender.
Yet, the other side of that coin is that I often have to come out on a regular basis. In casual conversations, assumptions are made about who I am (or who my partner is) based on how I look. These moments can happen so quickly or casually but can have such an impact. They are what I would call microaggressions.
Wow! That has never crossed my mind.
Right. It’s important that we all, especially straight allies, check our privilege, check our language, and stay mindful about how we are showing up.
Queer people constantly have to gauge: “Am I safe to share who I am in this meeting, in this conversation?” We need to create space for people to share who they are authentically—or else we are just perpetuating a heteronormative culture that isn’t inclusive.
What do you see as the most pressing issue for the LGBTQ+ community today?
The most pressing issue is the violence against the lives of Black Trans Women & Black Trans Femmes. While all transgender women of color are more marginalized than their peers, Black Trans Women & Black Trans Femmes exist within multiple intersections of oppression and are often uniquely singled out.
They are most targeted by the police and affected by systemic violence.
I have heard that the stress, anxiety and depression that transgender people face, a result of the threat and reality of homophobic violence, mean they are much more likely to have a mental health issue than a cisgender person.
The quality of life for trans people, especially trans women is tied to both cultural attitudes and institutional policies that do not value the existence of female identified people and feminine characteristics in general, such as intuition, nurturance, emotion. These systems and barriers are extremely difficult to access and navigate. Furthermore, even when one does manage to “make it inside” these systems can be incredibly oppressive and dehumanizing. This is why it is important that we make space for Black Trans Women & Femmes to become our leaders. So that our culture can begin to create NEW systems that are inclusive of all.
One area I feel particularly passionate about is the Seattle housing crisis and how it is tied to mental health and accessibility. According to The Transgender Law Center Website Black Trans Women & Black Trans Femmes experience disproportionately higher rates of housing insecurity because of gender and race-based discrimination.
I understand that you have gone to part-time at CRTKL so that you can spend more of your time volunteering in Seattle.
I am a proponent of affordable housing and currently volunteer with the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), which serves low income and houseless people. It’s an amazing resource in Seattle. LIHI builds tiny house villages—houses with doors that people can close and lock at the end of the day. These houses are prioritized for women and families as safe place to be together rather than split up in shelters throughout the city.
I am also an advocate for food sovereignty: the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. I have been taking classes to learn about permaculture and regenerative design practices and volunteering with organizations and farm communities that support these values. They are growing free food and teaching people how to grow their own food to create resiliency and become less dependent on our flawed food systems.
Food insecurity is projected at 42 million people in the U.S. in 2021. Finding affordable housing is an enormous problem in Seattle. LIHI is doing great work. How else can we bring about change?
Educating ourselves on the experiences of others is a great way to start. Storytelling is one of the most powerful (and interesting) tools we have as humans to shift our culture. Change can come through policy & legal work, but equally important is shifting hearts and attitudes about the value of Black trans lives. I want a world where Black Trans Women & Femmes are thriving and leading solutions for social, economic, and political change. So, bottom line, listen to Black Women when they speak. Period.
Here are a few of my favorite resources: