In the third edition of the annual Pride Conversations event, Google powered a live social media discussion on how tech is making a difference in the lives of the LGBTQ+ community by celebrating their inspiring stories, promoting allyship, and building safe spaces.
Among the panelists is Cebuana trans Filipino beauty queen and model Maki Gingoyon, co-founder of MyTransgenderDate.com, a dating site for transgender women. According to Maki, creating a safe dating space for trans women is what inspired her to bring the dating site to life.
“Trans women venture on online dating sites hoping to find a partner who could accept us for who we are, who could love us for who we are. However, the sad reality of transgender dating sites back then was very, very discouraging–transwomen were presented as merely sexual objects,” she said.
Maki also believes that through this platform, she and her co-founder can stop the stigma on transgender relationships and promote accepting love in all its forms.
In the same light, telling stories with hopeful endings is what Darwin Mariano brings to the table as a producer and founder of ticket solutions platform Ticket2Me. Together with director Jade Castro and writer Danice Mae Sison, they created the popular Boys Love series, Boys Lockdown (2020), a story about two boys who connect while living under strict lockdowns due to the pandemic.
“Many of the LGBTQ+ stories told during my time were dark–they died of AIDS, heartbroken, or abused. That’s why we created ‘Boys Lockdown.’ We want to make stories where young [LGBTQ+] people can see that they can have their own kilig love stories,” Darwin said.
Darwin also saw how platforms like YouTube are invaluable in telling those stories to the world.
“As producers, we really want to tell these stories but the challenge is monetizing and supporting these content with a business model that keeps you producing. This is where a platform like Google’s YouTube is important–it allows us to extend the life of the content when we upload it to our YouTube channel,” he added.
Safe spaces in tech
There may be safe spaces in tech but the reality is that it took–and takes–a lot of effort to get there.
For Jolly Estaris, Video and Media Sales lead at Google Philippines, creating safe spaces within their companies is important to give more visibility to the LGBTQ+ community in tech–this is why in 2018 he set up a group called Pride@Tech that includes Pride members & allies from the local tech community. He is also proud of how Google celebrates LGBTQ+ at the workplace through its long-term programs, policies, and benefits.
“Within Google, there are a number of helpful resources and SOGIE101 training that help educate Googlers about the LGBTQ+ community and allyship,” shared Jolly. “We are also empowered to set our preferred pronouns in our work profiles which is important to foster respect among each other. Small things like that really help in creating a more inclusive work environment.”
Similarly, Samantha Rose Cruz agrees that It’s in simple things like respecting one’s preferred pronouns and gender identity that we can move towards LGBTQ+ equality, and this is something that she is working on as a product designer for live streaming platform XSplit.
“Being part of the community has helped me develop empathy and see my work through other people’s eyes and address the diverse needs of our users and build a product for everyone,” she said.
Some of the ways she is doing that is by designing forms that do away with referring to other gender orientations as “others”. Instead, she consciously puts a text box where people can write their gender identity.
Being people who have often been discriminated against, this has led the community to be more emphatic and understanding not only in addressing the needs of their members but also people from all walks of life.
“For the LGBTQ+ people who are working in tech, we are actually the ones sitting there and understanding what can be dangerous for people because that’s the reality we have to face: which of the things we make can create great things and which ones can cause harm. We’re searchlights, we can see in the dark, that’s our superpower,” Mark Lacsamana, UI Design Lead at PageUp, an enterprise talent management platform.
The same is true for Cristina del Rosario, Head of Design at the fintech company First Circle, who ensures that all of her designs are universal and usable for other communities often overlooked in tech and design.
“How can I design a product that works wonderfully? For everybody, including people who might be colorblind or people with low literacy, or people who have never used a smartphone before? And so being part of the LGBTQ+ community, helps me understand other communities and pushes me to design better products,” she explained.
Mela Habijan, the first-ever Miss Trans Global 2020 and now a beacon of light for LGBTQ+, also shared how tech has helped find her space and voice when the world once told her that she is “not enough” just because she was born biologically male.
“Sabi ng mundo, kapag LGBTQIA+ ka, wala kang karapatan mangarap. Kaya akala ko, wala akong puwang sa mundo para lumago, maging buo, lalong higit maging ako. Little did I know, I would meet three fairy godmothers along the way: social media, digital world, and tech,” Mela said.
“Ninang tech became my space of freedom and empowerment, while Ninang digital world was an open-minded platform that did not judge me as different. Instead, Ninang digital world saw my being trans and my being LGBTQIA+ as leverage of potential. And finally, Ninang social media–she is a democratic arena that allowed me to seize opportunities for me to believe in myself: that I can be my best, that I can be talented.”