How Technology Protects, Hinders the LGBTQ+ Community

Ninety-seven percent of LGBTQ+ youth witnessed content online that could be described as homophobic, biphobic or transphobic.

Pride Month celebrates the historic achievements of LGBTQ+ individuals. For example, thousands of lives were saved by the brilliant British mathematician Alan Turing. Turing broke the Enigma code used by Germany during World War II. After the war, Turing’s career continued to be marked by noteworthy achievements. He contributed to the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) and developed the blueprint for stored-program computers. The advancements Alan Turing made to theoretical computing shape our everyday technology, maybe most notably artificial intelligence. Despite these accomplishments, Turing, a gay man, was convicted for gross indecency in 1954 and was rejected from professional circles. At the age of 41, he committed suicide. A great mind lost to persecution by small minds.

Alan Turing

Turing reminds us that sometimes one’s remarkable achievements will never make an individual accepted by society at large.

However, it’s no longer 1954. And ironically, the same computing principles Turing worked so hard to develop are being used in apps that now help the LGBTQ+ community.

Apps for Safety and Wellness

GeoSure is a travel safety app that gives a safety rating category at the neighborhood level. This helps a member of the LGBTQ+ community determine the likelihood of experiencing discrimination in a particular area. Moreover, the app monitors more than 65,000 cities and neighborhoods worldwide, helping individuals decide where and how they should travel.

Along those same lines, Tinder has prioritized safety for its users. It blocks the profiles of those who identify as LGBTQ+ from appearing when these individuals enter a country where governments have criminalized same-sex relationships.

And now people living in rural areas are no longer cut off from other LGBTQ+ people in their communities. At least not with EmptyClosets. The monitored online community for teens 13 and older provides a forum and a chat room, as well as resources on coming out and sexual health. TheTribe, a similar support group, offers mental health resources for LGBTQ+ people.

Privacy

The apps outlined are only a handful of the ubiquitous apps — for everything from dating to wellness — developed for the LGBTQ+ population. However, they highlight one important point. While digital technology might have empowered individuals to create communities and utilize services, connected devices have established new privacy risks.

LGBTQ+ communities have historically been some of the earliest adopters of technology. Yet, they are prone to experience more severe harm, according to the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and LGBT Tech.

FPF's Amie Stepanovich

FPF’s Amie Stepanovich

Amie Stepanovich is vice president of US policy at FPF and co-author of a recent report that outlines these risks. Civil rights protections—including the right to privacy—are under attack. Protections still lag when it comes to protecting LGBTQ+ individuals.

“The processing of data about an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity can carry unique risks for LGBTQ+ individuals and communities,” said Stepanovich. “Organizations need to understand the impacts of processing this data on traditionally marginalized communities and to provide heightened protections, with respect for past and present context, to protect against potential harms.”

FPF and LGBT Tech found that LGBTQ+ individuals are disproportionately impacted by privacy violations online. Today, LGBTQ+ communities still face significant barriers and prejudices from violence and discrimination, harmonizing their right to equality and dignity.

A Better Internet

According to the report, 99% of LGBTQ+ youth witnessed content online that could be described as homophobic, biphobic or transphobic.

Christopher Wood is executive director of LGBT Tech and a co-author of the report.

“For many of the LGBTQ+ youth, the internet is the only place they feel safe to express their sexuality and connect with other LGBTQ+ youth. Potential violations can lead to privacy harms in the form of online outings and harassment.”

Pride Month is as much about action as it is about celebration and remembrance. How can we advocate for a better internet that promotes self-discovery without making people vulnerable? Surely there’s another Turing out there.

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