– A look into an inclusive design for the LGBTQIA+ community
Understanding queer spaces through catchphrases
The revolutionary period of the 1960s initiated radical movements across the world that questioned and revolted against the heteronormative social order. These movements witnessed popular catchphrases like “Coming out of the closet” is widely used that acknowledged queer individuals and enabled them to come to terms with their identities. Despite the negative connotation of the term, closet, that revolves around themes of subjugation, they are also spaces that let individuals of the LGBTQIA+ community comfortably celebrate their sexual identities.
Being an integral part of almost all queer narratives, closets in its metaphorical sense denote the first idea of an ostensibly safe space associated with queer individuals. Gradually these spaces broadened, from bedrooms and bathroom mirrors to online groups to dancing clubs and streets that host pride parades. And essentially these spaces empowered the queer individual – bathroom mirrors that carefully adore a 23-year-old male in the brightest shade of lipstick; online groups that shared and exchanged queer experiences; dancing bars that accommodate innumerous queer social connections and cherished romances; and the streets that sport solidarity in occasional Pride marches.
Evidently, we come to realise the complex and sensitive relationship that thrives between individual identities and the built environment. On a similar context, architects and urban designers need to develop a deeper understanding of queer individuals and communities to help expand queer spaces.
Why do we need queer spaces?
Having established that space and individual identity are substantially complementary entities, the present urban restrictions of physical spaces institute a striking contrast between how individuals identify themselves and are identified by society. While some of us march on Pride walks waving Queer flags in gaiety and with our nails painted in different shades of the rainbow, we also struggle to make sense of the merciless killings and biased discrimination to the queer community that has taken a toll in today’s world. In this context, a public space, such as streets, malls or even hospitals, although inherently have no sexual identity, become apparent mediums designed for a heteronormative society.
Gendered utility spaces such as bathrooms and restrooms also overlook design aspects to tailor to the needs of the trans and intersex community. Pride marches and select queer-friendly cafes are the only limited spaces that reinstate the aforementioned sensitive relationships between built spaces and individual identities. Consequently, there is a constant threat to these queer spaces – with the deleterious idea that erasing said spaces would imply erasing communities that inhabit them. Thus, public spaces become less comfortably accessible for queer communities to operate beyond social structures of heteronormative binaries.
The goal of an effective urban community is achieved only when its users or members are allowed to enjoy and avail the urban amenities in their original identities without fearing compromised safety. Urban design must celebrate these differences to make congenial spaces such as affordable housing and healthcare centres and the unfortunate absence of such spaces would only deny rudimentary facilities for the queer community. And as architects and urban designers, it is important to un-learn gender constructs and re-learn the concept of queer interactions to design inclusive spaces.
Learning queer spaces through proactive initiatives:
The shared responsibility towards creating inclusive spaces of any professional creating built environments allows them to make a conscious choice to redesign social structures and actively contribute to riveting socio-political movements revolving around queer identities.
A project that best samples design perspectives advocating inclusivity and emancipating the queer community would be the “A Space for All” a project designed by Hawkins\Brown sealed a delightful victory at the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) and Architects LGBT+’s Pride Float Competition in 2018. The float not only celebrated the contribution of queer architects to the built environment but also rightly captured the essence of the queer community and all of its nuances. The design positively envisioned a festive space accessed by queer individuals across barriers of age, class and colour.
Initiatives can begin through having conversations with municipal officials or government bodies with similar interests to authorize and legitimate queer spaces. Understanding queer demographics and reaching out to LGBTQIA+ communities can help design an urban-centric queer space. Partner with civil organizations to create awareness and simultaneously engage and empower queer communities.
Identify sites that are culturally significant to the LGBTQIA+ community such as streets or bars that were tools of mobilization during the Gay Liberation movement in the 1960s and rebuild them. The need to recognize privileges within the queer community is crucial to enable an analogous platform that acknowledges oppression along with working dynamics of colour, class and sexuality. Most importantly, the intricate concept of territorial models of and for the queer can be better understood with an open mind and some amount of love to spare – by that I specifically mean two spoonfuls of admiration and wonder you share for your favourite musical band and a tiny fraction of love that you have for golden retrievers.