Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Privacy
with Chris Wood of LGBT Tech
Research and data often influence and inform policies and regulations, both in government and in the private sector. But for some in the LGBTQ community, there is concern about misuse of sexual orientation and gender identity information.
Chris Wood, Executive Director and Co-founder of LGBT Tech, joins Tetiana Anderson to discuss findings of a new report, “The Role of Data Protection in Safeguarding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Information,” which identifies ways to mitigate risk to individuals and communities.
May 28, 2021
Anderson: During the COVID-19 pandemic, technology was able to keep us connected while we were socially isolated. As so many of us are online more than ever, it's even more important than ever to keep your data protected. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Joining me to talk about the role of data protection in safeguarding precious information like sexual orientation and gender identity information is Chris Wood, executive director and co-founder of LGBT Tech. And, Chris, thanks for being here.
Wood: Thanks for having me.
Anderson: So, nowadays, you know, compromised security means compromised privacy for everybody. But you say that the stakes are even higher for people in the LGBTQ community. How so? What makes data misuse impact this group more than other groups?
Wood: In order to understand that, I think we really need to look at the history of the LGBTQ community and the laws of the United States. I think it's important to recognize that the laws that were put in place to protect us were actually used against us in many circumstances. You had everything from anti-sodomy laws to same-sex couples not being able to be together, the Lavender Scare, and the raiding of our bars with the Stonewall riots. We were not allowed to live open, out, and free, and the laws that were put in place to protect society in general were used against us in our community. And so now it really is rebuilding from the ground up now that we do have protections in place to make sure that LGBTQ individuals are protected not only by our own communities, but the laws that are supposed to protect us. And that really takes rebuilding from the ground up.
Anderson: So, speaking of that rebuilding, it's something that you're looking at. There's a report out by your organization, along with the Future of Privacy Forum, and it looks at the role of data in keeping sexual orientation and gender identity information safe. What are the crucial findings?
Wood: What we found is for the very first time, again, we're level-setting the playing field here. We're making sure everybody understands why the LGBTQ community has such a fear of being prosecuted or being hunted or being hurt in some way. And that's the history that I just spoke about. But more importantly is making sure that companies and policymakers are thinking about our data as crucial and important and protected data. Sexual orientation data and gender identity data is considered private and is personal information. And what we need to do is make sure that our laws that are being put in place, both federally and at the state level, are reflecting the protections for the LGBTQ community as a whole.
Anderson: And part of mitigating a lot of this risk is elevating the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the tech space. And I know that's something that your organization is working on through its PATHS program. What is that, and what's it doing?
Wood: PATHS a really amazing program that I'm excited about. It's really taking all the experience that I've had from years of working within the community, and it's allowing individuals who are in STEAM fields -- science, technology, engineering, arts, and math -- to tell their story about how they got into STEAM fields. It's through that storytelling that individuals can connect with how they got into it and find their path into how to get into a STEAM field. There's a lot of programs out there that have tried to increase diversity within tech fields. And I think one of the best ways that I've heard from all of my colleagues in the LGBTQ space is really telling our stories and ensuring that other people can connect with those. It may not be the fact that we identify as LGBTQ that draws us together. It may be the communities we grew up in or our background in a particular way, and that may be the connection, and you just also happen to be LGBTQ. That storytelling is going to be extremely powerful. We're going to launch it online, and we'll allow anyone with an Internet connection to be able to view those stories and hopefully connect and see a path into tech fields.
Anderson: So, how important is that type of positive messaging for the LGBTQ community when it comes to the world of tech, to see themselves reflected in a positive way, but, you know, for everyone else to see that kind of thing, too?
Wood: Absolutely. We saw an increase in LGBTQ visibility on TV and within movies. And I think it's the exact same situation, where when you see LGBTQ people in tech fields, you see a version of yourself and you see the ability for you to identify, belong, and be there. And so it is just as important as seeing someone on TV to see that you can go work in a tech field and you can be accepted and you can bring your whole self to work.
Anderson: If you see it, you can believe it. Chris, if people want to find out more about your organization, what's the website?
Wood: You can visit us at lgbttech.org, and you can also find us on Facebook and Twitter at LGBT Tech.
Anderson: Chris Wood, executive director and co-founder of LGBT Tech, thanks for being here.
Wood: Thanks for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, log onto comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.