On Thursday, February 6, LGBT Tech released episode two of LGBT Tech: After Hours. The podcast, which debuted last week on Soundcloud, provides information about LGBTQ+ issues in tech from an LGBTQ+ perspective. This week, the LGBT Tech team discussed the Unicode Consortium's recent inclusion of the trans flag, trans symbol, and expanded gender options in its Emoji List, v13.0.
Emojis have come a long way since1997, when Japanese phone company SoftBack - then J-Phone - released the first known set emojis on the SkyWalker DP-211SW mobile phone. Two years later, Shigetaka Kurita - a Japanese artist working for Japan's mobile carrier DoCoMo - created an emoji set that would influence later designs. Shigetaka's emojis - 176 total - were12- by 12- pixel images that communicated basic information, like the weather and phases of the moon.
More than 20 years later, and with over 3,000 catalogued by the Unicode Consortium, emojis have become an international, cross-cultural language. And like any language, emojis communicate certain ideas about race, class, sexual orientation, and gender through the characters people can access.
Until recently, the characters representing people tended to be white, straight- and cis-passing. In 2015, the Unicode Consortium added five skin tone options and same-sex couples to it's emoji list. The pride flag, along with single dad and weight-lifting woman, appeared in 2016. That same year, 2016, marked the beginning of a 4-year struggle for the trans flag emoji.
Since 2016, when Google Creative Tea Uglow submitted a proposal for a trans flag emoji to the Unicode Consortium, trans activists have consistently pushed for better trans representation in emojis. Annual proposals from activists like Bianca Rey and Monica Helms, the creator of the trans flag, received similar responses to Uglow's. Finally, in 2019, the Consortium accepted a 17-page proposal from Uglow, Rey, Helms, and several others - thus securing a spot for both a trans flag and trans symbol emoji in 2020.
As LGBTQ+ representation and inclusion increase in both real and virtual spaces, institutions must work to make that space possible. LGBT Tech is committed to ensuring that LGBTQ+ communities receive the representation we need, especially in the tech we use on a daily basis. The Unicode Consortium's recent inclusion of the trans flag, trans symbol, and expanded gender options shows a promising step forward for trans inclusion and representation.
Emoji List v13.0 will be released September or October of 2020.
For more information about LGBTQ+ emoji representation, as well as the technical side of emojis and the Unicode Consortium, listen to LGBT Tech: After Hours, episode 2 below.