Tech Group Won't Let Trump Ignore LGBTQ Pride Month
Software engineers, designers, copywriters, coders and many others are organizing to protect and advance the cause in the digital space.
Illustration via Sean Hutchinson
This is an opinion piece by Michael Lenihan of Out in Tech, a non-profit that unites LGBTQs and allies in the tech community. Mike works in human rights and international development using technology to design to foster empathy and understanding.
Under the Obama administration, the federal government used National LGBTQ Pride Month every June as an opportunity to recognize, celebrate, and encourage greater equality for LGBTQ people. Indeed, the Obama administration promoted a friendlier environment for the community, even cloaking the White House in rainbow-bright colors when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2015. Yet on May 31 of this year, President Trump announced that June would be celebrated as Great Outdoors Month and National Homeownership Month. Noticeably missing from the president's proclamations: Pride Month.
President Trump's declaration of June as the Great Outdoors Month – intentionally or not – ignores the very real threats facing LGBTQ people. Perhaps this is not surprising. Hours following the president's inauguration, the administration scrubbed all mention of LGBTQ rights from government websites.
It seems that in President Trump's government, if LGBTQ issues aren't acknowledged, they don't exist. Except that for millions of Americans, they do.
When governments fail to protect minority communities – or actively discriminate against them – advocacy organizations and grassroots initiatives activate. Support for the American Civil Liberties Union, which works on anti-LGBTQ discrimination and transgender rights, spiked immediately following the November election. The organization received an historic-high of 120,000 donations in a week. This trend has not been exclusive to major national organizations;
Out in Tech, a non-profit that unites LGBTQ tech professionals through civic engagement initiatives, has leveraged increased support through its Digital Corps program.
When first launched last year, Out in Tech's Digital Corps built websites for ten advocacy organizations in countries around the world where homosexuality is illegal, punishable by death, or where LGBTQ people face severe stigma and discrimination. With the advent of the Trump administration, however, Out in Tech's program director, Gary Goldman, saw an opportunity to direct volunteer interest to US organizations under threat.
With a cadre of 50 software engineers, designers, and copywriters, Out in Tech identified ten US organizations working to protect and advance LGBTQ rights. "No one we approached said 'no,'" explains Goldman. "Especially since November, there has been a strong demand within our community for opportunities to help make valuable contributions to the cause."
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No cause may be more politically charged right now than transgender rights. According to the ACLU, 36 proposed laws currently sit before 18 state legislatures targeting transgender peoples' rights – bills barring access to appropriate facilities, exempting religious organizations from discriminatory practices, limiting healthcare options, and blocking changes to gender markers on legal identification. Responding to the hostile political landscape facing the trans community, Goldman and the Out in Tech Digital Corps connected with Mason Dunn, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition to see how Digital Corps volunteers could help support the organization's work. There was clear need.
"Overall, the national climate is having an impact on our members. Transphobic attitudes are surfacing in ways that are problematic, and inciting violent behavior and discrimination against transgender people," explains Dunn. With this heightened sense of urgency, the Digital Corps provided a rare opportunity to create a much-needed resource for transgender people: a digital app helping to navigate the legal process of changing gender markers on legal documents.
The process for changing gender markers across government systems is time-consuming, convoluted, and potentially expensive. For over a decade, the Coalition has distributed a 50-page manual outlining instructions and checklists on how to change names and personal pronouns in documents like passports, driver's licenses, and birth certificates. With its new digital tool, created by Digital Corps volunteers during a one-day event, the Coalition can now map out more detailed steps of the process, provide guidance on sequencing, and offer people a sense of progress in an otherwise daunting and emotionally-charged exercise.
Dunn's hope is that the tool created by the Digital Corps will not only benefit those living in Massachusetts, but serve as a model to be adapted by other trans rights organizations across the country.
That strategy – building and sharing tools to advance a cause – is exactly what fuels successful grassroots campaigns. The Out in Tech Digital Corps, which has already arranged two additional web development events this year, is doing its part to empower LGBTQ organizations to make those valuable contributions, and provide resources, tools, and attention to those the administration seeks to make invisible.