There’s a paradox when it comes to LGBTQ people’s involvement with the inception and growth of the tech industry.
In one sense, the tech community has done a good job at being inclusive of LGBTQ people (albeit not on purpose). In fact, queer people were some of the earliest adopters of many nascent forms of tech.
Matt Skallerud, president of Pink Banana Media, a consulting agency that specializes in LGBT online marketing, tells the LGBT Foundation, “The LGBTQ community gravitated towards technology overall, starting with IRC (Internet Relay Chat) rooms and migrating up to AOL chatrooms and then the Internet.”
Skallerud continues, “For those that have grown up with technology, especially as it evolved back in the 80s, leveraging technology in order to have any type of LGBTQ social life, ranging from dating to friends to hook-ups, was sometimes the only way for an LGBTQ individual to discover who they were and that they were not alone.”
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Now, of course, we have apps like Grindr, Hornet, and Scruff along with numerous, exclusively online publications that cater to the LGBTQ community. Even tech companies that aren’t LGBTQ-specfic, like Facebook and Meetup, have made it easier for LGBTQ people to connect with one another.
But those are just a few specific components of the larger tech industry. In another sense, the LGBTQ community has been relatively ignored.
As technical founder of Interactly and current tech consultant Michiel Trimpe explains bluntly, “LGBT people have been underserved by the tech industries because of the VC (venture capital) model of funding, which considers the very specific, nerdy Ivy League white guy profile a safe bet — also known as the Zuckerberg effect…Unfortunately these kids have generally grown up with every privilege in the book so they find it difficult to relate to what the actual needs are of other, less privileged communities.”
But now, in the era of #MeToo, gun control reform, marriage equality, trans-inclusion, and, for lack of better word, a general “wokeness” by millennials and Generation Z trickling up to older generations, it benefits all tech industries to put LGBT people at the forefront of their tech business when it comes to advertising and marketing, as well as creating specific products for the LGBT community.
Activism sells. Fighting for equality and equity sells. Serving underserved communities sells. Bizarrely enough, for the first time in history in the United States, it seems like being a legitimately good-hearted company that cares about its customers (and people in general) is good for business. The tech industry is no exception.
It’s also not that difficult to be inclusive of the LGBTQ community, which, as mentioned before, (often) has disposable income. Additionally, given that we in the queer community were early adopters of many tech advancements, LGBTQ people have a proclivity (and excitement) for new, emerging technologies.
“Marketing to the LGBTQ community, and featuring us in advertisements, goes a long way,” says Melanie Cristol, the Founder & CEO of Lorals: lingerie for comfort, pleasure, and protection during oral sex.
“Advertise your products on LGBTQ-specific websites like The Advocate or Autostraddle, and make those ads appeal to LGBTQ customers with targeted language or imagery. And if you have the budget, it’s awesome to see mainstream advertisements that feature LGBTQ couples, for products that are not specifically targeted to us. I personally see such advertising as a social good, because it normalizes LGBTQ lives and reminds folks that, in so many ways, we have similar needs and wants in our lives. You can also feature LGBTQ couples on your social media accounts. It’s especially great if your advertisements and imagery can reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ community.”
With regard to actually creating and developing tech products specifically for LGBTQ people, Cristol explains, “It’s important to talk early-on to members of the LGBTQ community to figure out how their needs or wants might differ from your non-LGBTQ customer base.”
For example, when launching her company Lorals, they worked closely with the LGBTQ community to understand how to build their product to suit the needs of all potential consumers: “We talked with many members of the LBGTQ community, who were much more likely than their straight counterparts to have used similar products in the past. We learned the things that bother people about dental dams and ensured we would fix those problems with Lorals.”
At the end of the day, as the tech industry continues to expand, it needs to keep in mind the time period in which we’re living. LGBT people have immense power, in the forms of both social and financial capital. We’ve also been part of the tech industry since the beginning.
Thus, if tech industries wish to continue growing, they’d be remiss to not harness the power of LGBTQ people and the “pink economy.”