RIAS should get over it and be proud to represent their gay members – like the RIBA
LGB architects in Scotland are worse off than anywhere else in the UK, writes Christine Murray
‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ - the notorious, now defunct, American military policy that banned openly gay service members while tolerating those in the closet - is alive and well in the architectural institutions of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
When we asked the RIBA regional offices if they would pass on the AJ survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual architects to their members, just two organisations declined: Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) and Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA).
The RSUA didn’t want to be seen to endorse the survey in the religious context of Northern Ireland, but they would not issue an official statement saying so.
Neil Baxter, secretary and treasurer of RIAS, was more open, saying the council had voted against the survey’s inclusion because it was ‘drawing attention to something, and that in itself can be divisive’.
‘However well intentioned, the survey highlights something which the general feeling in our council felt was not an issue or a consideration in Scottish practices,’ Baxter said. (Note the use of the word ‘something’, as though even the topic of homophobia is unmentionable).
But it turns out LGB architects in Scotland are worse off than anywhere else in the UK. One in four gay architects in Scotland are uncomfortable with being ‘out’ in practice to their colleagues - compared to 1 in 10 architects elsewhere in the UK. And just 54 per cent of respondents in Scotland said they were comfortable with being open about their sexuality at work, compared to 77 per cent of architects in London.
The survey was in response to LGB charity Stonewall’s findings that the construction industry was one of the worst sectors in the UK, lagging behind the military on inclusion initiatives.
Thank goodness the RIBA is more enlightened. Chief executive Harry Rich said: ‘The profession should be proud that that so many lesbian, gay and bisexual architects are comfortable being out at work. I would urge the profession to take the next important step by positively supporting their colleagues in feeling equally comfortable outside the office and on site.’
What are the big issues? Harassment and inappropriate banter in the office, and especially on site, is a problem for LGB architects. Twenty per cent said their sexual orientation was a barrier to career progression, while many called for more ‘out’ role models. We need more ‘out’ directors and industry figures to stand up and be counted. In the words of developer Martyn Evans from Cathedral Group: ‘It’s easy to fuel that age-old argument of “I don’t mind what he/she does in private, but I don’t want it rubbed in my face.” That’s crap. It’s not about being private, everyone’s entitled not to talk about their private life - it’s about being able to talk about lifestyle, partners and family if you do want to in social situations in our industry.’
Some people are gay. RIAS and RSUA should get over it and be proud to represent all of their members. Well done to the RIBA for leading the way.