What Attracts LGBTQIA+ People to Planning?
Have you noticed that there seem to be a lot of LGBTQIA+ people in urban and transportation planning? At Foursquare ITP, we have many valued members of our team who are queer. (We use “queer” in this post to be inclusive of all LGBTQIA+ folks.) While there is no direct causality between being queer and being in the planning profession, we speculate (as others have) that many queer folks feel drawn to the profession for a reason. During this Pride Month, we celebrate our queer colleagues at Foursquare ITP and beyond; we recognize those who may not yet feel comfortable to come out at home or at work; and we take a step back to consider the ways that marginalized peoples still face discrimination, especially at the hands of our profession.
As members of the queer community, many of us are treated differently by society at large and by people we encounter every day. Our community experiences discrimination, violence, microaggressions, and exclusion. Many queer people are at risk for being victims of violence in public spaces, in particular trans women of color. We know what it feels like to lack rights and the comforts of simply existing as our authentic selves. These experiences are compounded for people with intersecting identities beyond queerness, including being a person of color, being disabled, or being a woman or femme-presenting person.
This topic is critically understudied in the planning sphere, but Pride offers us a chance to fully appreciate the extent to which transportation, and planning more broadly, can be dangerous toward—or exclusive of—people across the queer spectrum. Black people and passengers who are perceived to be queer are more likely to be discriminated against by taxi or rideshare drivers, who decline to accept the trip. Gender minorities are more likely to be harassed on or while waiting for public transportation. The “public” who participate in public meetings are typically older, white homeowners. As Professor Michael Frisch has documented, planning as an institution was built around “heterosexual constructs of family, work, and community life”—and without a radical reinvention of our processes, our profession continues to reinforce these constructs.
Like our non-queer colleagues, we each have different experiences and stories explaining how we got into planning. Inspiration comes from a variety of sources, like a fascination with visiting new cities, a love of trains and buses, or a passion for sustainability. For many of our colleagues, queer or not, the desire to impact positive change in our communities is a major reason we got into the profession in the first place. We hypothesize that queer people’s lived experiences as described above may result in a higher proportion of queer people who prioritize contributing positively to their communities, compared to the general population. Perhaps this helps explain why it seems like there are so many queer people in our profession.
As queer people, we are members of a community that reminds us to live our lives with joy, love, and unabashed pride, and it is indeed a point of pride to share that community with so many of our Foursquare ITP colleagues. Our lived experiences help inform the planning work we do, especially when it comes to thinking about equity in planning processes. As planners we know that representation truly matters. We know that who has a voice and a seat at the table, who holds power, and who feels welcome into particular spaces can impact the input that is heard and will ultimately impact the resulting product. It is a priority of ours to create better planning processes and outcomes and, ultimately, a more just society for all.