The need for technological kinship for the LGBTQ community
Big Interview

The need for technological kinship for the LGBTQ community

Christopher Wood_ED LGBT Tech.jpg

Capacity’s Natalie Bannerman talks to Christopher Wood of LGBT Tech on how the organisation supports LGBTQIA+ people in tech, and the research that supports its work.

As innovation in technology continues to develop, it is easy to forget that groups in society exist that have unique requirements, such as the specific modifications those of us with disabilities require to access and use the same tools as others. In the case of the LGBTQIA+ community, LGBT Tech, a non-profit organisation based in the US that creates programs and resources that support queer communities and educates businesses and legislators on the unique needs of such individuals in tech.

The organisation’s co-founder and executive director, Christopher Wood, spoke to me about how it came to be, and the unique needs of the queer community tech providers need to be aware of.

“LGBT Tech was founded in on the basis that LGBTQ individuals historically haven’t been represented in technology,” explains Wood. “We are a non-partisan organisation, sometimes referred to as think-tank, that works at the intersection of LGBT and technology, ensuring that the voice of this community is lifted up into technology spaces.”

With work rooted in empirical research, the group entered into the space with what Wood calls a ‘research mind’ rather than demanding to be included.

“In 2010, the National Broadband Plan in the United States was introduced and was used by the Federal Communications Commission to better understand how to ensure Americans are connected as a global leader at that time,” he says.

LGBT Tech’s first report came after an examination of the National Broadband Plan showed many different marginalised communities were represented in it, but the LGBTQ community was not one of them.

“So, we launched our first research initiative, which is the paper that can be found on our website called ‘A Vision for Inclusion: An LGBT Broadband Future (2014)’ and there were a some very interesting things we found out from it,” says Wood.

The report’s findings include that LGBTQ individuals are core users of the internet. For instance, 80% of LGBT respondents participate in social media, versus 58% of the general public.

“Back then [2014] social media just starting to proliferate, in a way that people were really engaging with it. But LGBTQ individuals adopted that technology faster, because it allowed them to find community, have that peer-to-peer support and begin exploring their identity,” explains Wood.

Beyond this, respondents said that online connectivity helped them with healthcare issues (such as finding suitable health care providers and telehealth services), pursue higher education, and find supportive networks, safe housing and jobs.

“We also found some negative things, and the fact that LGBTQ content was being blocked in public schools and libraries because of filters. Outside of anything inappropriate, there is LGBTQ information that is helpful, that is supportive, that should be accessible,” argues Wood.

Other negatives found through the report include cyberbullying of LGBT adults and children, as well as issues around privacy, although Wood acknowledges that things have come a long way since 2014, with the introduction of legislation such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

“The key thing we realised as an organisation, is that if we didn’t have a voice at the table we weren’t going to be included, and issues like that of privacy and data are key to our community,” Woods said.

Through its work with various US legislators, including those that drew up the National Broadband Plan, one of the reoccurring questions LGBT Tech faced was “what is LGBT about technology?” The answer was that it has nothing to do with technology, but it is about the user behind the technology.

“The ways that LGBTQ individuals are engaging and working with technology are the reasons why it’s so important that we are included in it, because we do in fact use it differently,” says Wood. “The LGBTQ community is not a monolith. We span all other marginalised communities. This is also true for the disabled community. When you when you start to layer those things, for example, someone is LGBT and maybe an immigrant, that can have complications depending on where they are from the world.”

So how does the industry at-large become more inclusive when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community and its use of technology?

Wood says, “It’s important for companies and legislators to make sure that there’s representation around the table for LGBTQ individuals, which means engaging these groups, like LGBT Tech, to learn from them, and make sure that they’re digesting their research and supporting programmes that actually help LGBTQ individuals get connected. That connectivity is so important”.

The connectivity conversation extends beyond the internet to hardware. As it is expensive, it is inaccessible if you’re not able to afford it, which plays into lack of community. This is why LGBT Tech has built a number of programmes in line with this, such as the centre Wood founded in rural Virginia to provide connectivity, as resources and a sense of belonging.

Through this work, and in particular the uptick in the use of technology during the Covid-19 pandemic, LGBT Tech has been able to report the increased adoption it is seeing, especially among marginalised communities, to the FCC.

In addition, the ‘A Vision for Inclusion’ showed a large portion of the US homeless population identify as LGBTQ, for a number of reasons.

“From personal experience living in rural Virginia, and the founder of a center [the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center in Virginia], I have been on the phone where a biological parent, or a biological caretaker, is kicking their child out for something they can’t control: being LGBTQ. I have been on the phone listening to, or communicating with Child Protective Services, and ensuring that [the child] is safe if they are in a really precarious spot,” Woods says.

Soon after, the LGBT Tech dug deeper, and with the help of research from Dr Eric Rice of UCLA, produced its ‘Connect 4 Life’ report. This showed that many LGBTQ individuals in insecure housing situations were using technology to help themselves out of their predicament.

“They didn’t necessarily have a wireless service – maybe they were using free Wifi or a friend’s phone,” said Wood. “But they used it to connect to services and so to stabilise themselves and create a better future for themselves.”

The first programme developed out of the ‘Connect 4 Life’ research was the ‘PowerOn Program’, which distributes technology to LGBTQ centres across the US. It currently has 80 centres in Alaska, Puerto Rico and Washington DC. To date, the programme has distributed more than US$259,000 of technology. But Wood says that “in order to provide those grants, we need donations. To do that we need support”.

LGBT Tech had just finished the process of applying for annual grants to support PowerOn, which saw 86 centres apply for more than $272,000 worth of technology, including computer labs, Wifi, hotspots and personal devices.

LGBT Tech also runs a mentorship programme called the PATHS project, which aims to support LGBTQ+ youth and young adults interested in careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). Wood encourages any “company that has employees that want to be interviewed, to please send them to us”.

Wood’s journey has been an interesting one. Currently, he is serving his third term on the FCC’s Diversity Committee, under Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Wood describes himself as a self-professed entrepreneur, who is has always been always curious about the way things work. He adopted a “tear down the paper ceiling” mentality that champions a skills-based education which is reflected in his career.

Despite not having a college degree, Wood has had a varied career path. “I worked for non-profits. I ran the finances for bars I worked for. I was a marketing manager for a newspaper. I worked at Discovery Communications. I worked for the Association of Associations. and I started multiple businesses,” he says.

He really started to hone in on what he wanted to do, and the change he wanted to make, when he entered the corporate world. One particularly sobering incident changed his perspective entirely.

“When I worked for Discovery Communications, roughly nine months into my employment, I returned from lunch one day and found myself staring down the barrel of a gun at the hands of a suicide bomber,” he says.

Wood had found himself a hostage of James Jay Lee. On 1 September 2010, Lee, who was armed with a handgun and explosives entered the Discovery Channel’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and took hostages. It was the first time a suicide bomber had taken hostages in the US.

“For four hours I said goodbye to everybody, texting a few things out, answering calls from my boss, but not speaking,” said Wood. “It was that moment that I realised just how short life is, I saw it as my second chance to create my own path and found LGBT Tech.”

Wood does not believe the work in diversity, equity and inclusion will ever be completed, but is optimistic that, eventually, LGBT Tech will no longer be needed. “Hopefully, one day, there will be no reason for us to exist.”

To learn more about LGBT Tech’s Path mentoring scheme, and to apply as a mentor, visit

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