AIAS panel audience raise hands to ask questions.
Photo: School of Architecture

AIAS Hosts Panel:
Navigating Queer Identity in the Workplace

AIAS Hosts Panel:
Navigating Queer Identity in the Workplace

Ann Hoevel | Feb 10, 2023 — Atlanta, GA

Fourth-year School of Architecture student Anna Wiles moderated last night's American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) group panel titled Navigating Queer Identity in the Workplace. The panelists were Sarah Nelson-Woynicz, Tegra Myanna, Jon Gould, Taylour Upton, Jessika Nelson, Ian Hunter, and Travis Hampton. 

The idea for the panel, Wiles said, was born from a conversation she had with Nelson-Woynicz last semester.

"I met Sarah and her wife Jessika at Build Something Great, AIA Atlanta's annual celebration of the prestigious Residential & Hospitality Design Awards and the Honor Awards," Wiles said. "Meeting Sarah and her wife Jessika was so inspiring to me as a young queer woman because it was the first time I'd seen representation of people who looked like me in our industry."

Wiles asked if Nelson-Woynicz be willing to talk more about her experience as an LGBTQ+ woman in architecture and share advice. "We quickly realized that this is a conversation that we should be having with as many people as possible," Wiles said.

"Sarah reached out to her colleagues who are involved in a variety of LGBTQ+ organizations and committees, and I asked AIAS Georgia Tech to help me host the event. We also looped in the LGBTQ+ Resource Center at Georgia Tech, and director Tegra Myanna was kind enough to join the panel and provide their experiences, both with advising students and navigating their own identity."

Resonant Topics

Anna Wiles
Photo: School of Architecture
Anna Wiles.

"As an architecture student and emerging professional, the thing that resonated most with me was something that Sarah said during the panel," Wiles said.

When Wiles asked the panelists what inspired them to join the panel and speak openly in front of an audience, Nelson-Woynicz said that she wanted to be the last first lesbian architect that a student has ever met.

"By that, she meant that the reason that she's dedicating so much time and energy to advocating for equality in the workplace is to promote diversity and increase the representation of people who look like us. That statement was so powerful and eloquently said, and it will stick with me forever as I enter the architecture industry and join the fight for equal representation and inclusion," Wiles said.

After the panel discussion was over, Wiles contemplated the kind of advice she could give her peers or even new architecture students.

"I would tell fellow students that if they feel comfortable, to start having conversations with colleagues about identity," she said. "The more that we show firm leaders that equity, diversity and inclusion are necessary and important, the more we'll be valued and accepted for who we are. We are the future of architecture and it's up to us to make sure that we're doing what we can to push the industry forward." 

Results of an Honest, Open Conversation

The AIAS panelists
Photo: School of Architecture
The panelists from left to right: Travis Hampton, Sarah Nelson-Woynicz, Ian Hunter, Jon Gould.

"I think that everyone from the audience left the panel feeling a strong sense of community and empowerment," Wiles said. "We were able to give advice to current firm leaders on ways to make their workplace culture more inclusive, introduce architects and designers to ways that they can speak up and get involved, and show current students what successful, queer professionals look like."

"I hope that the conversations we began continue and the bonds we created as a community continue to strengthen as we keep working towards a more equitable future."