Very rarely do I talk politics with my clients. I was taught not to. Architecture should be enjoyed and celebrated by everyone, regardless of their political stripe. At the same time, I don’t know that I’ve ever discussed politics anywhere within this blog. In my head, I have tried to maintain a separation, no matter what was happening in the world. I’m the Big Gay Architect. Let’s just focus on that.
Except as I have been working on this week’s blog post, I found it hard to ignore the significance of the inauguration this past Wednesday. We watched Kamala Harris be sworn in as the first female, black, and South Asian Vice-President. We saw democracy continue despite the attempted insurrection on January 6th. And America (or at least those of us who voted for Biden and Harris) celebrated the change coming to the White House, albeit from a socially distanced vantage point.
But better than all of that, I realized as I watched Joe Biden being sworn in as President, that after 4+ years, I can finally stop holding my breath.
The day after the 2016 election, I awoke around 2 a.m. and checked the election results on my phone. The race hadn’t been called by the time we went to bed, so I was anxious to see how the votes had played out. Only to have my stomach drop. Trump had won, and I was afraid of what that meant for me as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Would the progress that had been made for LGBTQ+ rights disappear? And not just rights obtained over the last eight years but rights that had been fought for since before Stonewall. Would my New York marriage that became legal everywhere in 2015 be threatened? Would discrimination become the norm for the incoming administration? When would the shoe drop that said my rights were being taken away?
I had to hop on a plane later that morning to present at a conference in Minnesota, so I didn’t get to think too much about what might happen. We wouldn’t know for sure until the following January. However, the administration’s intentions became clear on inauguration day, when within minutes of Trump being sworn in, any mention of LGBTQ+ was scrubbed from government web sites.
And that was only the beginning.
I spent – and the community spent – four years watching LGBTQ+ advancements get trampled. From the banning of transgender servicemembers to allowing foster-care programs to discriminate against LGBTQ+ couples to permitting homeless shelters to refuse service to transgender women. And that’s just to name a few. There was a constant feeling of being on guard as the administration appointed anti-LGBTQ+ judges and pandered to evangelicals with a history of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.
But what surprised me was what a Trump administration would mean to me as an architect. When I looked at the election news that early November morning, I didn’t think once about what a science-denying President would mean.
Over the last 23 years in the profession, sustainability has become a key aspect of architecture. As we design, we look for opportunities to use green products in buildings, to create more energy-efficient structures, and to reduce the impact of construction on the climate. In 2006, the American Institute of Architects issued The 2030 Challenge with the goal to make new buildings and major renovations carbon-neutral by 2030.
Yet while we worked towards that goal, we watched the administration roll back protections put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency, protections meant to ensure we had clean water and breathable air. We watched Trump pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. And we watched the administration again and again deny climate change was a reality as California burned and hurricanes intensified.
What would be next? What would be the next shoe that dropped?
Oddly enough, four years later, I was participating in a virtual architecture conference when the news came that Biden was projected to win Pennsylvania and therefore the election. I was on a Zoom call with architecture students discussing their futures when someone posted the news to the chat board. Certainly, an interesting bookend to my experience from four years before.
Of course, no one could have predicted with 100% accuracy what was to happen between that day and January 20th. The constant barrage of disinformation about the election, the level of denial about Trump losing, and the storming of the US Capitol just made the end of those four years that much more frustrating.
But it’s January 22nd, and I can breathe again as the new administration works to undo the damage from the last four years. I can talk about politics with my husband without getting angry. And I can wake up each morning not wondering what terrible thing had been tweeted out overnight.
Best of all, I can go back to being The Big Gay Architect. And not worry about what that means.
Cover image credit: Politico