An Algorithm for Diversity: LGBTI Inclusion in Tech

| By Lauren Weiser

The technology industry has seen tremendous growth in the past decade, creating more online and digital platforms that shape an increasingly interconnected world. Many people benefit from this – as both the creators and users of this technology. However, many groups do not get the same experiences from using or creating technology. For example, the tech industry is largely dominated by straight, white, cisgender men with a labor force that reflects those demographics, while marginalized and minority groups (LGBTI people, people of color, women, and many others) face significant challenges of entry or experience a hostile atmosphere in the office. Additionally, many LGBTI groups in various countries are ineffectively harnessing the power of tech, likely due to the significant challenges they face in education and employment, as well as when starting a business. 

At the Embassy of Uruguay, NGLCC Global kicked off its 2nd annual Global LGBTI Business Week. During this event, a panel of experts discussed how LGBTI people across the globe can better use technology in their advocacy and entrepreneurial efforts. Moderated by Anthony Shop, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Social Driver (a certified LGBTBE® of NGLCC), esteemed panelists included Angelica Ross (Founder and CEO, TransTech), Maggie Rodriquez (Co-Founder, GPSGAY), and Gary Goldman (Program Director, Out in Tech). Each brought a unique perspective, having faced different issues as LGBTI people in the global tech industry, as well as through their advocacy in various parts of the world.

Throughout their lives, many transgender people face violent stigma and discrimination, thereby preventing them from living their lives free of violence and discrimination. Ross experienced this firsthand when she faced homelessness and sex work before venturing into the tech industry in a leap of faith. She often thought and was asked by others “What else are you going to do? You have no other choice (other than sex work).” 

Ross states that there are positive aspects of the tech industry, and that by taking on freelance tech projects, she “found her freedom… a way to navigate being unemployed” as a transgender woman of color. Despite elitism, success in the tech industry still lies in what skills a person has, not where they went to school or who they know. Ross started her organization, TransTech, out of her own pocket because she felt that she had “a wealth inside of [her]” in her desire and drive to teach other transgender people the skills necessary to join the professional world. Ross knew that the best way to ensure the education of people in need was to take matters into her own hands.

For LGBTI people, a culture of stigma in addition to family rejection, homelessness, and school bullying all comingle to limit educational and employment prospects and prosperity. Without this education, LGBTI people are often unable to develop the necessary expertise to utilize tech effectively to start a business or work towards collective empowerment. Innovative programs, like Out in Tech, have worked to connect LGBTI people across the globe and share resources in order to promote empowerment – particularly in countries with prevalent stigma or discriminatory laws. One such program, Digital Corps, creates websites for LGBTI organizations who lack the resources or expertise to build their own. As Goldman stated, this allowed Out in Tech to amplify the voices and message of those groups. Additionally, Rodriquez’s organization, GPSGAY, was created in Uruguay for similar reasons. The prejudice she faced inspired Rodriguez and her wife to build an app for smartphones to be used as a social network for LGBTI people.

The experts went on to discuss the importance of safety. For example, GPSGAY keeps all information confidential, meaning that search engines cannot archive it. This feature is meant to keep LGBTI people safe, especially those in regions like Latin America, which still experience large amounts of violence. Rodriquez stated that in Uruguay and the surrounding region, “discrimination is still very real,” so the need for a safe online space is significant. Goldman agreed, referencing security measures on some LGBT geosocial networking apps that seek to inform people of the risks associated with publicly identifying as a member of the LGBTI community online, particularly in a global context.

The discussion ended with strong recommendations for ways to move forward. Ross commented, “there’s a lot of lip service” to the LGBTI community, and actionable steps must be taken to advance inclusion efforts. Even though there is an emerging culture of inclusion, from the level of corporations and government alike, clear interventions are needed to involve LGBTI people in the tech industry and to develop the programs to bolster their educational outcomes. In agreement, Goldman noted that corporations and policymakers “need to put their money where their mouth is” to effectively harness the power of tech for LGBTI groups.