Updated: Feb 9
The LGBT Tech team is consistently working on several different initiatives each month. From research, to programs and education, I continued to be impressed by the passion and drive they bring to the table in support of our community. This monthly blog will bring several of those topics to the forefront and let me give you a glimpse into some of the exciting things LGBT Tech is working on and thinking about.
Virtual Reality (VR) & the LGBTQ+ community
Since the start of the global pandemic, most of us have been spending a lot of additional time trapped inside the confines of our home. Even for those of us who cannot work from home, our evenings, mornings and weekends have been filled with more time at home than ever before. At first, many of us were using video chat functions included in our hardware, FaceTime and SnapChat, followed by using our daily work tools like Zoom to connect with our friends and family. We’ve heard about and participated in happy hours, dinners, and game nights to help feed the human need for connection during a time of uncertainty unlike many of us have seen in our lifetime.
At LGBT Tech, we were participating in all those activities mentioned before but also saw an increase in another sector that caught our eye.
With the release of the new PS5, the Oculus Quest 2 and Xbox in the later half of 2020, we were reading reports of orders for these new systems greater than ever before. Specifically, the rate that VR headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 were being ordered was up five times the amount ordered for an earlier model.
Although we were looking into and discussing the use of VR for LGBTQ+ communities before the pandemic, with the releases of new hardware and increased interest in VR, LGBT Tech’s team doubled down and dug in. We wanted to begin understanding how this technology could benefit or be a challenge for the LGBTQ+ community, why the use of it might be different for our community and what VR could do for our community in a way that other technology could not.
From games to virtual meetup spaces, we have found a landscape ripe with opportunities to help bring the LGBTQ+ community closer together and connect in ways truly not available until now, regardless of geographic location (as long as you have a good internet connection). In the coming months, LGBT Tech and our team are going to begin hosting events in VR and bringing the vast community of LGBTQ+ VR creators together. We hope you’ll follow us on social media, register for events and join us in VR!
Broadband is Crucial for Next Generation Technologies
As we are keeping our eye on newer technologies like virtual reality (VR) and telehealth, we are reminded daily through our PowerOn program and work on the digital divide that access to the internet is not equal. Some areas of the country have the latest wireless connectivity while others are still relying on copper lines running to a home or place of business tied to a wireless access point. 2020 and the pandemic have flooded the news with stories about parents and kids struggling to stay connected in a way that allows them to perform their schoolwork and jobs from home. Some simply CANNOT.
For LGBTQ+ individuals of all ages, from different geographic locations or who may or may not be out to family, this past year has been extremely difficult. For many LGBTQ+ individuals, the internet is a lifeline for connecting with community, supportive networks, organizations, healthcare providers and so much more. During COVID, smaller LGBTQ+ centers saw a 34% increase in clients and 6% increase in referrals from other agencies all while quickly limiting access to their physical spaces and trying to move programming online. Today, 94% of LGBTQ+ center programming is now offered online across the country.
Overall, among the biggest technologies crucial to staying connected are the wired and wireless networks that crisscross this country. This network includes the 5G networks that America’s wireless industry has spent the last several years building and is still building. According a recent report by the Boston Consulting Group, 5G is predicted to have major economic and technological benefits including the creation of up to 4.5 million jobs and $1.5 trillion in GDP. Over the past year, we’ve seen the release of technology that can take advantage of these new 5G networks and will allow communities like the LGBTQ+ community to connect in ways we never imagined. From virtual reality to remote telehealth appointments with the nation’s leading doctors, it is over the backbone of these next generation networks that we will see our community flourish.
Although we enjoy working on the latest and greatest technologies like gaming and VR, we recognize those technologies will not work unless we continue to push our elected and appointed leaders to invest in next generation networks like 5G. We are making great progress but we have a lot more to do so we stay competitive with the world, increasing our communities’ ability to get online, stay online and participate in a global economy, regardless of where they live.
The PowerOn Program Adds 17 New Organizations
In the past year, we’ve witnessed LGBTQ+ organizations across the country grapple with going digital. With public spaces temporarily closed due to COVID-19, LGBTQ+ organizations have had to shift their work online, often without the technological support they need to reach their clients. Now more than ever, connectivity is crucial to the LGBTQ+ community - and simply put, tech makes connectivity possible.
That’s why last year LGBT Tech’s PowerOn program introduced a new emergency grant to help bridge the connectivity gap LGBTQ+ organizations faced. The new mini grant helped provide technology like desktop computers and hotspots to 17 organizations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. And the mini grant recipients have noticed the difference the mini grant tech is making for their community.
One person at LGBTQ Lake County in Painesville, OH, had this to share:
“[The] COVID impact on the LGBTQ+ community has been of great struggle. We have found that LGBTQ+ youth and older LGBTQ+ adults are experiencing high anxiety and isolation….To counteract the isolation and increase engagement, we are increasing our wellness calls from 10 calls per week to 22 calls a week and added an additional volunteer. PowerOn Laptops are being used to make those scheduled weekly calls. We have seen several youth thrive just within the 3 weeks.”
PowerOn currently serves 46 LGBTQ+ organizations across 29 U.S. states and territories, providing them with the hardware they need to reach their local communities. As we continue to grapple with the novel coronavirus, we’re working to help keep our communities connected any way we can!
Increasing LGBTQ+ Individuals in STEAM
LGBT Tech prides itself on constantly reexamining how we can best impact and serve the LGBTQ+ community through technology. Last year really challenged us to find new innovative ways to reach our community and the allies who support us. As always, we've welcomed the challenge and the opportunities it offers.
That’s why last year, on LGBTQ+ STEM Day, we announced our latest program PATHS (Powerful Action Through the Help of Storytelling), a ten-part video series designed to inspire and motivate LGBTQ+ youth and young adults interested in STEAM careers. (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics by the way.) Each video will feature an LGBTQ+ STEAM professional who will share their experience of being out in STEAM along with any advice they may have for the next generation of LGBTQ+ STEAM professionals.
So what do we hope to accomplish with PATHS? For starters, we want to inspire LGBTQ+ youth and young adults to explore their path in STEAM fields. To that end, we want to create interactive opportunities to bring together LGBTQ+ STEAM professionals and LGBTQ+ youth and young adults through video interviews and virtual panels. Finally, we want to help LGBTQ+ STEAM professionals pay it forward by inspiring LGBTQ+ youth and young adults to get into STEAM. Sharing their stories and offering advice is a huge way for LGBTQ+ STEAM professionals to do just that.
Everyone has a unique story, a unique path, from where they’ve been to where they’re going. LGBTQ+ people especially understand the unexpected twists and turns our lives can take, and the joy we can take from the journey. PATHS aims to celebrate our diverse trajectories as we foster connection across communities. We can’t wait to share PATHS with you over the next few months!