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The Contentious Relationship Between the LGBTQ+ community and Tech by Bryan Hughes | JSConf EU 2019


So, yeah My name's Bryan Hughes, find me online in all the places

This is a talk I have been thinking about for a long time Actually, first came up with like the original kernel of an idea for this talk at this very conference two years ago So, I think it's fitting that I'm able to actually give it here at JSConf EU Because this is a really special conference I think we've all felt that

You know, it's great technical content, of course Some of the leading technical content But really, we're a community, more than that And so, like, as you can probably guess, especially if you have read my Twitter bio, I'm bisexual, polyamorous, and you can read it there Some things that aren't in my bio

I was born in Texas in the United States which is one of the most conservative parts of the country I grew up there in the '80s and '90s A little older than I look Things were a little bit different back then I'm going to talk about queerness and tech and how these things intersect in all kinds of different ways

The truth is it's complicated There's no binary tech is good, tech is bad or any of that It's just all over the map I really want to dig into what these things are, really How tech helps, how tech hurts and how tech can be better

I'm just one person We talk about the queer community a lot But it's not just one community Not just one type of person in it The queer community is a federation, really

There are lots and lots of different communities with a lot of different people and a lot of different experiences Of course, disclaimer, I speak for myself I did reach out to a number of queer folks that I know, friends of friends, things like that, to try to get a lot of different perspectives You'll see quotes from other folks Hopefully not just speaking for myself

Before we get into it, this talk comes with content warnings as I'm sure you can imagine So, if any of these parts of the talk are difficult or uncomfortable, take care of yourself Feel free to step outside, anything like that I want to start by setting the stage a little bit Go back in time a little bit

Talk about one of the fathers of computer science, Alan Turing Made contributions to computer science as well as art official intelligence The renaissance in tech, artificial intelligence, the big new thing Alan Turing was talking about it in the first part of the 20th century And Alan Turing was also gay

And he was persecuted for it It I think in a way it's fitting that we start by talking about tech and queer employees given in the way that Alan Turing was the first queer tech employee At least that we know of When we talk about being a queer employee, tech is very complicated, you know? I'm queer and I'm a tech employee

I think a lot of folks in this audience here are And so, it's really complicated Like the first thing I want to talk about one of the best things is that tech offers us stable employment And as queer folks, this is really important because a lot of queer folks are just not financially stable Regardless of the family we come from, so many were, you know, kicked out of their homes when they were young

So, even if there was wealth in the family, that often didn't translate to the queer kids themselves Having financial stability is important And in tech, compared to other professions that pay about the same and offer the stability, tech tends to be one of the most accepting At least in that strata of professions As a queer tech worker, I have a job that is intellectually challenging and offers economic stability

I do my best to pay it forward and pass that money along to people who need it One of the first issues that we tend to run into, and this is kind of a meta one, is corporate pride is rainbow capitalism All right Throughout I think about three different definitions to use to break this down a little bit First, the concept of pride in the queer community

That's really, really important to us Because for centuries and millennia, we were told that who we are is something to be ashamed of It's not And it's taken a lot of work for us to become proud of who we are And so, pride is very, very important us to

And we're starting to see a lot of companies expressing queer pride in various different ways So, this corporate pride is kind of it's a new thing, of course But we really look at it, though, it's what we call rainbow capitalism And so, rainbow capitalism is whenever companies, institutions, whoever, engages with the queer community Not to help the queer community

But in order to further their own interests Usually to sell more products, make more money And what we end up seeing is that corporate pride end up just being another reflection and lens of rainbow capitalism The tech industry is engaging in a queer specific version of diversity theater by sponsoring events like the pride parade They market to sell more products, and most are not doing anything to make the life better for queer people

Queer ERGs, employee resource groups, should be run by queer employees However, it's also important that you value the work people are putting into this I was the head of the queer employee resource group for a while And that work was seen as completely extracurricular and I missed out on a promotion as a result See, companies want to take the work they do in order to further their own interests and they don't actually give back

They don't support us in that They only take it from us And our other intersections are compounded You know, we talk about social justice We talk a lot about intersectionality

And that absolutely applies to queerness as well And one of the things that I think is important to note about this is, you know, we tend to think about diversity, inclusivity as like different axes This is not necessarily wrong, but they are not independent And this is something we have to remember When people have more than one marginalization they're dealing, this is not an additive, it's a multiplicative one

They inform each other and makes things more complicated When my disability became ongoing, it was hard to tell if I was put on small projects because of my disability, gender, or actual job performance I'm definitely more marginalized for my Judaism and ADHD, but that's only because I have been working in queer friendly cities I'm marginalized for both my queerness and my race Queer rights isn't an equal playing field

Race always had something to do with it Our pain is ignored and dismissed Just after the Pulse nightclub shootings, I mentioned to a co worker that I was going hold a moment of silence at an upcoming all hands My co worker said, I don't think tech companies should take a stance on that kind of thing I like the idea of being neutral

What the fuck? I didn't say anything because I didn't feel safe to speak up to this person that thinks companies shouldn't condemn gun violence against queer people of color Tech is never neutral And the only way you can think that tech is neutral is if you love in a place of extreme privilege Tech is a part of this world It always has been

[ Applause ] And it shape this is world in a way that no industry does in this day and age And, you know, actually, I should say something else on this I actually have my own story with Pulse as well I had been working at Microsoft for three, four months I was working on a product team before I got into my current role now

And Pulse nightclub shooting happened on a weekend And I think every queer person remembers that weekend pretty clearly At least if you were connected to the queer community at that time I was working on a remote team, something I was grateful for in retrospect And we had a stand up Monday morning

I'm devastated Every queer person I know and talked to was a complete and utter wreck I hop on the call, a virtual call, thankfully no video I'm barely able to speak, and all the people on the team, all cis straight men, they were asking about weekends, laughing and joking as if nothing had happened And like I'm struggling so much already

And that made me feel so much more alone in that moment Because it was a reminder that, you know, most people aren't queer Most people don't have to deal with that And most people don't care So, what can tech employers do? First, let's talk about hiring

And this is just a few things Like we could spend an entire talk on this alone I'll just give you a couple of things First of all is ignore social media Like, if you're higher, just don't even look at a person's social media account

Because the truth is, if we're going to talk about our daily lives, that means talking about some things that people find controversial If we're not going to talk about our daily lives like privileged, straight, cis white folks do, we get punished in ways they don't or we have to hide it, which is effectively going back in the closet If we talk about other marginalizations on top of it, it's even worse On my bio on Twitter, I mention that I'm bi and poly I try to be out about that

But you know what with? If a bi queer woman, especially of color said the same thing, that would probably disqualify them from being hired, but not me The other thing is to understand variances in employment history This is especially true for trans folks Because the truth of the matter is queer folks in general have a tougher time finding employment There are more issues we have to deal with

And the more marginalized intersections it is, the more difficult People are in bad situations at work and are discriminated and have to leave Especially the more marginalized followings tend to hop jobs It's not the fault of the queer folks, but it's the companies And in hiring, the queer person is punished all the time

We need to stop looking at that And talk about HR once in the company Implicit bias training This is kind of an obvious one And there are a lot of problems with current implicit bias trainings

But this is still important We all have biases This is the nature of the human condition Every single person has some biases We can't understand everyone's viewpoint in the world

We didn't simultaneously grow up in every single country to simultaneously being born to dozens of different types of parents We cannot understand everyone's position innately We don't have the experiences And the best way to get through that is through education And also, we need to improve implicit bias training

And also, we need to take sexual harassment claims seriously This is especially true for clear women Because this is an issue in the industry for all women But again, intersectionality This comes into play

Queer women face even more issues There was I remember a study came out a while ago that showed bi women actually face more discrimination than lesbian or straight women as it turns out There's a whole complicated host of reasons for that But it's true And so, taking these claims seriously benefits queer people especially

And people of color and other intersections as well Inclusion You know, gender neutral language and bedrooms We have gender neutral bedrooms here at the conference It's actually part of the venue

They didn't do that last minute switch that a lot of conferences did You can do it at a concert venue, you can do it at work And the same thing with language Don't use he, him in documentation language Depending on the language, this is a little bit different

Some languages it's easier to do gender neutral pronouns than others Regardless, think about what they're talking about in the language and the culture and figure out how to support them with language Preferred names and pronouns This is important in companies and comes up in a lot of places we don't think about For legal reasons, most companies need your legal name

A trans person, their legal name is often not their real name We need to understand that and propagate that through a system If you have HR systems to log in, show their preferred name there, not the legal name In their email, corporate email account, show your preferred name and not your legal name and so on and so forth Create queer only spaces

I bet a lot of us use Slack at work Make sure in the Slacks there's a queer only space Same for other marginalizations We need a space to talk about ourselves where we're not constantly having to do one on one education And let queer people speak and listen

Stop speaking and listen Stop thinking you know what's best for queer people at your company Let's back out and talk about tech in the broader queer community This is one of the biggest benefits of tech and the most transformation I have seen Tech lets us escape our isolation

This is a big difference, when I was kid to when I was in college When I was a kid, there was no Internet Even when I was in high school, it wasn't really there But now we can actually find community online And this is deeply powerful

Tech makes it easier to find and meet community Grinder, et cetera, make finding like minded people or people with the same sexuality is a lot easier than flagging my friend Dorothy There's a reason, read up on it Tech makes it easier to find porn which helps with sexuality discovery This is important

A lot of people don't think about it But when we grow up in a society when we are supposed to have a certain orientation, certain sexual desires We have to dispel with that We have to figure something else And interestingly enough, porn is a really good way to do that

And porn is tied into tech So, we need to this is so useful in so many ways Queer folks spend most of our lives in some form of social isolation due to the hostility and violation of the cis hetero normative society we are forced to live in Having tech for a space to be ourselves and meet people like us matters Tech has a lot of isolated people, allowing them to find thousands or millions of others just like themselves

Queer folks of all types have found a large, receptive community to help them feel normalized and legitimate The trans rights movements has advanced due to the isolated people finding a multitude of peers going through the same process But tech asserts its biases on the world I think the biggest harm is training AI systems that incorporate existing bias and then treating those systems as Oracles and always correct Also, unlike with human interactions where you can negotiate, if a tech solution isn't coded to do something, there's no way to do it

If you're a queer, non binary or trans person signing up for a service and they have only a male/female check button, you can't talk to the website and have that button appear It's not there You don't do it It's driven by powerful cis men, and the tech is baked with the world they create And put out into the world via the Internet

It's a small portion of the straight world who is setting that culture Tech is also explicit in gentrification Now, gentrification is a complicated topic and there's not just one single cause But tech absolutely does play a role in it Societally some of the safest spaces for queer communities are in big cities like New York and San Francisco and, yes, here in Berlin

However, tech is hyper gentrifying those areas, making it impossible for queer folks to live When queer folks can't live in places that are safe for them, they have to live in places that are not safe for them I live in San Francisco My local community pretty much got destroyed by gentrification, along with everything else that's good and beautiful I live in San Francisco

And I have to agree Social media tech refuses to fix hate and bullying Online spaces have been increasingly hostile towards marginalized groups speaking up about their expressions, and that's fucking shitty I have seen friends and friends of friends stand up against white supremacists, tech doesn't ban the Nazis, they ban the queer people standing up for themselves I've seen this many times

The tech industry is profiting from social media platforms that enable harassment of queer and trans people as well as spreading fascist ideologies The tech industry has the power and resources to quarantine harassment and hate speech We do it with Spam in email It's just harassment and hate speech don't affect the white men in charge of the industry And the harm of viralness is intersectional

I think we've all heard various stories in the media about someone does something, says something, whatever It goes viral And then their lives are ruined This is compounded by intersectionality There's a lot of stories I could tell

There's actually a very specific story I want to tell, though About two months ago a trans black woman in Dallas, my hometown I grew up in Dallas Her name was Malaysia Booker, assaulted in a parking lot and someone recorded it and it went viral After the attack, she had this to say

This time I can stand before you when I was attacked Whereas in other scenarios, we are at a memorial So, what can tech companies do? The first is safety And start by banning the Nazis Get rid of real name policies

Like Facebook still has a real name policy And I use Facebook, these are not people's real names, they're legal names And I've seen this abused in many ways Trans people are banned from Twitter because they dare to use their real name And speak out against anti queer legislation

We're seeing more and more anti queer legislation in the United States, here in Europe and around the world And there is precedence for this, by the way A year or two ago in the United States when some of the really bad anti immigration policy was first being force the through, Microsoft released statements condemning that We should do that with anti queer legislation too And, again, ban the fucking Nazis

It's 2019 Why are we having this conversation again? And respect Stop using us as props to promote yourselves We are not things in your game And put your money where your mouth is

Companies will spend tens of thousands of dollars on one float in one pride parade Yes, they actually cost that much But you know what? They don't give a single dollar to any nonprofit that actually helps queer people They only want to look good They don't give a shit about us

So, like, where will the future take us? And, you know, this is something I'm torn on myself I don't know where we're going to end up in all of this Some days I'm pessimistic Some days I'm hopeful And today I'm going choose to be hopeful, though

I want to read you some excerpts from a speech from some time ago by Harvey Milk who was a famous queer activist And I think he had a lot of really good things to say Like every other group, we must be judged by our leaders and by those who are themselves gay Those who are visible For invisible, we remain in limbo

A myth A person with no parents, no brothers, no sisters No friends who are straight No important positions in employment The anger and the frustrations that some of us feel is because we are misunderstood

And friends can't feel the anger and frustration They can sense it in us But they can't feel it Because a friend has never gone through what is known as coming out I will never forget what it was like coming out and having nobody to look up toward

I remember the lack of hope Our friends can't fulfill it I can't forget the looks on faces of people who've lost hope Be they gay, be they seniors Be they black folks looking for an almost impossible job

Be they Latinos trying to explain their problems and aspirations in tongue that's foreign to them I use the word "I" because I'm proud I stand here tonight in front of my gay sisters, brothers and friends because I'm proud of you In San Francisco, three days before gay pride day, a person was killed just because he was gay And that night I walked among the sad and the frustrated at city hall in San Francisco

And later that night as they lit candles on Castro Street and stood in silence Reaching out for some symbolic thing to give them hope These were strong people These faces I knew from the shop, the streets, meetings And people who I never saw before, but I knew

They were strong But even they needed hope And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias, and the Richmond, Minnesotas, who are coming out and hearing the story on television, the only thing they have to look forward to is hope And you have to give them hope Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow

Hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great Hope that all will be all right So, without hope, not only gays, but blacks, Asians, seniors, the handicapped, the uses The uses will give up If there's a message I have to give, is that I found one overriding thing about my personal election, if a gay person can be elected, it's a green light

And you and you and you you have to give 'em hope Thank you [ Applause ]

Source: Youtube

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