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How can tech companies honor Pride Month's spirit?

Technology and digital issues can have negative impacts on LGBTQ+ people. Here's what tech organizations and leaders should know and some ideas on how you can respond.
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Reviewed by Laila Abdalla, Ph.D.

Pride Month emerged as a reaction against attempts to shame and intimidate LGBTQ+ people in New York City.

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn. The Greenwich Village bar was a popular spot — a social space where LGBTQ+ people who felt like they couldn't go anywhere else could gather.

Fifty years ago, U.S. law oppressed LGBTQ people on nearly every level. Disrespect, intolerance, and violence were common. In fact, Stonewall had been raided just a few days earlier. But on that day in June, when police officers behaved aggressively and violently when raiding the club, the patrons fought back.

The raid sparked multi-day riots. It also became a turning point for American LGBTQ+ rights.

One year later, on June 28, 1970, thousands of people marched in America's first pride rallies and parades in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The observance continued and grew over the next three decades. In 1999, President Bill Clinton first declared June "Gay & Lesbian Pride Month."

Stonewall is still open. And now cities nationwide have public Pride celebrations all year long.

Who is part of the LGBTQ+ community?

A record 7.1% of American adults self-identified as LGBTQ+, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The initialism LGBTQ to describe people who identify as something other than straight or cisgender came into use about 30 years ago. Back then, the initialism was short — LGB. It continues to evolve. 

This now-familiar acronym is meant to represent people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The Q may stand for queer or questioning. And the plus symbol is sometimes added to represent people who feel their identities fall outside the LGBTQ descriptors.

What's LGBTQ+ employment like in the tech world?

In short, there's much room for improvement

LGBT Tech is an organization that provides information, education, and outreach about tech-related issues that affect LGBTQ+ people. It states science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) employers hire disproportionately few LGBTQ+ workers, compared to the percentage of the U.S. population that identifies as such.

Infographic stating about 40% of LGBTQ+ people in STEM jobs aren't out to professional colleagues. And 47% of out LGBTQ professionals in STEM report experiencing professional devaluation.
Tori Rubloff/ZDNet

In addition, according to the most recent study on the subject, itself from 2013, about 40% of LGBTQ+ people in STEM jobs aren't out to professional colleagues. And 47% of out LGBTQ professionals in STEM report experiencing professional devaluation.

But it's sometimes difficult to quantify and confirm data about LGBTQ+ people. That's because unfortunately, voluntarily disclosing your sexual orientation or gender identity may put your job or even your personal safety at risk. 

In fact, worldwide, 83% of people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual withhold that information "from all or most of the people in their lives," according to a Yale study. As a result, a lot of self-reported data on LGBTQ issues may be underreported.

What technology issues affect LGBTQ people the most?

Technology enables people to feel more connected and provides access to credible information.

But using technology carries risks and downsides for all. Technology can compromise your personal information. It can expose you to an avalanche of misinformation. And social media platforms can serve as hives of harassment.

LGBTQ+ people may also face some unique tech-focused concerns. 

For example, inadequate data privacy may mean getting outed, which could cost you your job or affect your personal safety, despite the illegality of these outcomes in the U.S.

And for those in communities or countries without legal protections for LGBTQ+ people, an inability to reliably and safely connect with the rest of the world can mean being cut off from healthcare, education, and career opportunities.

Here are three tech issues that may specifically affect LGBTQ+ people.

Digital divide

Broadband empowers LGBTQ+ people to build community, search for jobs that will respect and honor their identities, and maintain access to affirming healthcare. Without broadband, people may lose access to these essential services. 

Legislation like the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and the Broadband DATA Act may help LGBTQ+ Americans who are economically disadvantaged or live in rural areas.

Telehealth

Accessing healthcare services digitally became mainstream during the pandemic. According to federal data, LGBTQ+ people "face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights." 

Improved access to healthcare can increase quality of life, reduce healthcare costs, and improve overall well-being. Accessing healthcare digitally can also connect people with affirming care providers.

Data privacy

In an era of digital connectivity, it's easy to forget the risk that our digital conversations and data could be intercepted or disclosed to unintended recipients. 

The likelihood of a negative outcome may be higher for LGBTQ+ people, who may be communicating about sensitive, personal issues with family, friends, or healthcare providers. That's why one source says maintaining the availability of end-to-end data encryption is a relevant tech issue for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+.

Supporting LGBTQ+ workers in technology

Attempts to implement anti-LGBTQ laws have the attention of major organizations. Apple, for example, is deploying lobbyists to oppose anti-trans and anti-gay legislation in at least nine states, Politico reports.

About 230 Fortune 500-ranked businesses earned a 100% rating on the 2021 Human Rights Council's Corporate Equality Index. It's a good resource to gauge which companies are leading the way in LGBTQ+ rights and advocacy. 

Here are three more examples of what organizations are doing to protect, support, and expand opportunities for their LGBTQ+ employees.

US Air Force

The Air Force announced that it will support service members and their families with medical and legal assistance if they are affected by laws limiting LGBTQ+ rights. The support for LGBTQ+ members and families will come through the existing Exceptional Family Member Program. 

Under the program, the military may consider reassigning personnel to "different states with safer environments for their families." Many of the Air Force's more than 100 jobs involve information technology or cybersecurity. As part of the Air Force, members of the Space Force may also participate.

JPMorgan Chase

This New York-based bank is one of the world's largest. It employed more than 270,000 people and reported more than $48 billion in profit in 2021. JPMorgan Chase announced it plans to spend $12 billion on technology this year.

JPMorgan further said it supports LGBTQ+ employees through several initiatives. They include:

  • An LGBT+ executive forum, which empowers more than 200 senior leaders to advocate for the global LGBTQ+ community
  • A global gender identity and expression council, which is intended to guide the company on matters of gender identity and expression
  • Resources for LGBTQ+ business customers

Best Buy

About 100,000 employees work for Minnesota-based electronics retailer Best Buy. The company has more than 1,000 stores in the US and Canada. 

Some of the company's employee-focused LGBTQ+-affirming initiatives include:

  • Adoption assistance for LGBTQ+ employees who want to grow their family
  • Benefits for domestic partners and a gender identity and transition toolkit 
  • Public corporate and financial support for pro-LGBTQ legislation

In conclusion

When it comes to using or working in technology, LGBTQ+ people face some challenges common to everyone and others that are unique to the community. Regardless of your connection to the tech or LGBTQ+ worlds, here are five starting points that demonstrate consideration, respect, and allyship:

  • Take the initiative to learn about the experiences of people who are different from you.
  • Advocate for and implement policies that create safe, respectful spaces at your organization.
  • Hire people at all levels who reflect the diversity of the human experience.
  • Language matters. Think about how your organization looks and sounds to others.
  • Consider backing social justice causes with action, volunteering, and funding.

This article was reviewed by Laila Abdalla, Ph.D.

Laila abdalla, a woman with curly hair, looks at the camera

Laila Abdalla obtained her Ph.D. in English from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She taught undergraduate and graduate courses in English and successful writing at Central Washington University for over 21 years.

Currently, Abdalla serves as a Washington state career coach and advocate for individuals on temporary state assistance. Abdalla has devoted her career, teaching, and leadership to matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Above all, she is committed to her clients' and students' complete experience, raising awareness of BIPOC issues in employment, language, community, and culture.

Abdalla leads with equity in management and nonprofit volunteering, and continues to develop her own understanding of these complex issues — both professionally and in her lived experiences.

Laila Abdalla is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Last reviewed May 16, 2022.

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