Monday, August 10, 2015

White House Convenes LGBT Techies to Help Address Nation’s Big Problems

Ina Fried for Re/code

U.S. CTO Megan Smith (left) with TransTech CEO Angelica Ross


By Ina Fried

August 10, 2015, 9:13 AM PDT

The White House on Monday tapped technology leaders and community leaders from the LGBT communities to help work on some of the major issues facing the country, including employment, criminal justice and citizenship.

While the audience was made up of largely those who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, event organizers encouraged the group to work on issues that include, but stretch beyond, those communities.

“We’re natural out-of-the-box thinkers,” said Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians Who Tech and one of the organizers of the White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation summit.

It’s the second LGBT event at the White House this summer. In June the President hosted a pride reception in the East Room celebrating recent civil rights gains.

By contrast, Monday’s event was about getting back to work on thorny problems that remain.

The event, held in a conference room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building that adjoins the White House, kicked off with a talk from U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith* and Angelica Ross, the CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises. Smith said she wanted the event to start with Ross and her work with transgender women of color.

“Amongst and in our community, the trans community faces some of the greatest challenges for inclusion and economic inclusion,” Smith said.

In her talk, Ross noted that while some people can attend a three-week or six-week training program and be job-ready, that often isn’t the case for transgender women, many of whom have been excluded from schools and churches or kicked out of their home.

“They have been kept out of so many developmental spaces that they need time,” Ross said. “What I am offering is not a Band-Aid.”

She pointed to her own story as evidence of what can happen over time, noting her own journey since doing sex work 15 years ago. “I actually wound up a CEO,” Ross said.

Discussions included ways to bridge between short-term training programs and permanent employment, with some participants advocating programs that create freelance or temporary positions for people to “try on” newly gained job skills along with continuing to grow comfortable being in their authentic gender at work.

The event, the second such summit, is also being streamed live from the White House website. Among the companies represented at the event were IBM, Microsoft, Intel, T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Hewlett-Packard.

Later in the day, the 170 attendees will gather in groups to pick a specific effort to work on (I am among the invited participants). Although the White House event is just a daylong gathering, those at the event are being encouraged to spend the next three months working on a project.

* Kara Swisher is married to but separated from Megan Smith, chief technology officer for the Obama Administration. See her ethics statement here.



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