Updated: Aug 6
I thought the title would catch your attention lol but if not glad you're reading regardless. So as the title says, this post is about being a Black gay woman in urban planning + urban design as it relates to the way I plan, create, and design places I exist in. I was extremely grateful and humbled to have been on an amazing call with some other dope ass Black gay women in urban planning and when I say... I N S P I R E D!!! You can't even imagine how I felt sharing a virtual space with these amazing women, I'm still in shock on the cool lol but on a serious note, that conversation and those women made me so happy to exist as an OPEN gay Black woman who happens to be an urban planning.
Before that I call I wasn't extremely aware of how my sexuality intersects with my professional passions, although they've always seemed connected, hearing other women in this space express their views/thoughts really put two and two together for me. The two are actually dependent on one another in the sense that enjoying public spaces is something critical when designing their impact on its patrons/attendants, primarily for those that identify as anything besides white unfortunately. As a gay Black woman I experience and feel places differently than my straight friends or even differently than my other gay friends who are white - despite what people may think interacting and moving as a Black gay woman is a completely different experience than that of a white woman. Society kind of caters to the white gay community, whereas, the Black gay community is kind of non-existent and as far as comfortable places + spaces go, well yeah. As I continue to transform my passions towards becoming an urban designer I've realized my lens on what it is equitable and safe potentially holds a lot of weight when it comes to functionality beyond form. I can't design places + spaces that look great but provides no form of safe recreation for Black folks and gay folks; both are a part of me and who I am.
Let me say that I don't go into every meeting, Zoom call, or any other setting with a sticky note on my forehead saying "I'm gay!" lol. But I'm also very comfortable talking about it (appropriately) and expressing how planning has also excluded those in the LGBTQA+ community; whether that's available restrooms in a time where gender identity is crucial, safety of trans people, and the overall sense of inviting places for us as Black queer people. It's more than creating cool sidewalk cafes or opening streets up more - unfortunately, none of that matters when you don't feel safe or feel like the space isn't really designed for you. As I move forward in designing better and community-geared places it's so important to incorporate elements that create a safe space for Black/brown people, but also, a truly inviting and safe space for the Black/brown LGBTQA+ community. Being able to exist as an openly gay/trans/non-binary/etc. Black individual shouldn't be up for debate - how a person chooses to identify doesn't mean they shouldn't be protected any less than a heterosexual person.
Places + spaces for the Black gay community are few and in between, whether that's bars, lounges, PUBLIC spaces, or wherever else, it's wild to think that I couldn't be out with my girl without possibly (or definitely) being harassed, stared at, followed... you get the point. As a Black gay person in 2020 it's seemingly more acceptable than what it was back in 2012 granted we're still struggling to be accepted by our families and society, which is extra challenging with the way white people are setup of these days. It's tough to be out and open without having to risk your livelihood or severing relationships with friends/family, some are still living in two worlds, others are trying to really find themselves and champion through without the support of those close to them. In whichever case, when you can't be comfortable as you are at home then the next best place people typically find solace is... you guessed it - public spaces. Like coffee shops, bars, intimate gatherings, and so on, these are communal spots that don't get enough love or recognition or even exist enough in Black/brown communities and for Black/brown LGBTQA+ individuals. There's no better time than now to push that narrative of truly equitable development and urban design because open streets are cool no doubt but are open streets cool and inviting for a Black gay couple to walk through or patronize a business. Or can open streets serve as an aid in the policing, harassment, and lack of safety for that same Black gay couple - I'd rather not guess at it but make damn sure it functions for us.
It goes without saying at this point - a space/place is nothing without comfort and safety. At least that's the standard in my eyes. When those elements are put FIRST other elements like equity, diversity, and the like will follow with ease. We as urban planners/urban designers celebrate ideas like open streets or tactical urbanism as "innovative". "inclusive", "game changing" that we completely bypass the question of where would this work or who is this really benefiting? We've allowed form, accolades, and recognition of a copy/paste idea to overshadow the whole purpose of designing the space from the beginning - safe, comfortable, vibrant, INTENTIONAL, and equitable spots that everyone can feel welcome especially in historically marginalized communities. That alone is enough fire for me to keep making a way for myself and others in urban planning/urban design - designing for US shouldn't be rocket science; just give a damn.
If you identify in the LGBTQA+ community and are an urban planner/urban designer please know there are professionals out here that you can reach out to. And if you're a Black urban planner/urban designer - this is especially important for YOU! If you're struggling to exist as yourself in/out of your workplace please don't hesitate to reach out to me!! Your sexual preference or identity is not and will not be barrier to you being an amazing, successful planner/designer - that's on PERIOD. Not only am I here for you, there are other amazing BLACK queer women that are transforming the field as we speak! Special shoutout to Les Henderson, Kristen Jeffers, Tamika Butler, and Ebony Dumas for being those lights for me! I talk A LOT about representation as a Black urban planner but it's even more crucial as a Black female gay planner - their presence means so much to me and I hope to inspire others the way they inspire me. Your best you is when you can exist 100% as you are - stop watering yourself down; you got IT!
I love y'all fr! It's not easy becoming 100% in love with yourself and your sexual identity in a field like urban planning but i promise you it's so worth it. I'm here for you if no one else and I know you're gonna be an amazing urban planner despite what social norms may imply. BLACK QUEER URBAN PLANNERS MATTER!!
If you wanna follow the amazing Black queer women I mentioned earlier here are their socials:
Les Henderson - @lessequalmore (IG)
Kristen Jeffers - @blackurbanist (IG/Twitter) and theblackurbanist.com
Tamika Butler - @tamikabutler (IG/Twitter) and tamikabutler.com/blog
Ebony Dumas - @djnattyboom (IG)
Humbled, grateful, and thankful as ever to share a space with these and other amazing BLACK queer women in urban planning. I see US doing the damn thing! Be present, hold your presence, and make sure they capitalize the "B" when talking about Black women in urban planning.
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