I’ve been gay since I was… well, born.
At seven years old, I knew something was different when I felt an overwhelming affection for my 19-year-old basketball coach, Cathy. By the time I figured out how sex worked, I had also learned that my Southern Baptist private school and religious community weren’t cool with the whole “gay” thing. At 13, despite truly believing that my feelings were wrong, I looked myself in the mirror in my bathroom, (checked around the corner to make sure no one could hear me,) and said it out loud: “Jordan, you’re gay.” Six years and two girlfriends later, I would cry as I told my parents, who smiled and said they already knew.
My history with technology hasn’t been as difficult or as determined as my coming out story. Like most late-80’s babies, I had a Nokia phone and chatted on AIM in middle school, got a Myspace and a Xanga in high school, and jumped on the iPhone and Facebook in college. I took typing and computer history classes in junior high (and now I wish desperately I had paid more attention). With ease, I set up wireless routers for my parents and troubleshot my mom’s printer issues. But I never really thought of myself as someone who was “into tech”.
I actually went to college to become a writer. I wanted to write fiction books and non-fiction books and articles in media publications and short stories. Across as many formats as possible, I wanted to write about human culture — the undefinable oddities that make people so fascinating. When I was younger, I didn’t realize that the most interesting part of human culture is how it changes, and why. Turns out, tech has a pretty big role in that.
So here I am, all gay and “into tech” and rambling on like a bad writer, but I’m not the only gay who was raised on a healthy diet of technology. The gay rights movement and the technology industry grew up together, and they wouldn’t be the same without each other.
The gay liberation movement sprung up around the Stonewall Riots in 1969, but the acceleration of gay rights progress in the last 10-15 years is astounding. Up until 2004, no state in the United States allowed same sex marriages. Up until 2011, the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was still in effect.
Today, same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Change that fast can really only be matched by our very own tech industry, which has taken us from printing out MapQuest directions to having the internet in our pocket in a few short years. Soon, we’ll have self-driving cars and wear computers on our faces.
Geography has, of course, played a big role in the relationship between technology and the gay rights movement. Silicon Valley is the hub of innovation in the United States, and it also happens to be next door to the gay mecca of our great country, San Francisco.
Despite the fact that we celebrate pride on the anniversary of Stonewall, a clear look at history shows you that the real beginning of the gay rights movement started in California, which is where some of the most important moments in the history of the gay movement have taken place.
The mindset of the tech industry, to always think beyond this moment in time, is the same mindset that keeps hope and determination in the minds of marriage equality advocates. And pride, the heartbeat of the gay movement, is the same thing that lets a young entrepreneur stand up in a room full of suits believing that his idea is worth their money.
But it’s not just the mingling of cultures that has married these two movements. The internet allowed gay people from small towns to connect with other people like them, despite the limitations of geography. It’s pretty hard to be motivated for a war unless you know you have an army behind you.
One of the first groups to ever send out regular email blasts was the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination, which asked recipients to call or email them when entertainment companies portrayed gay people poorly during the mid-90s.
And even before that, tech companies were some of the first to openly support the gay rights movement. Apple had a gay employee group all the way back in 1986, and Lotus was one of the first companies to ever offer health benefits to the partners of gay employees.
“The first generation of tech companies — Microsoft, Apple and IBM — were some of the earliest adopters of LGBT benefits,” HRC Workplace Project deputy director Deena Fidas told Politico. “And the second-generation companies — Google and Facebook — not only ensure equality internally, but they’ve turned around and spoken up for issues. For the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for instance, we saw very strong leadership right out of the gate from the tech world.”
Of the 200 companies that signed an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in opposition to Prop 8, nearly 20 percent were tech companies. Jeff Bezos and his wife pledged $2.5 million to Washington United for Marriage in an effort to legalize gay marriage in Washington State, the same organization that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer each pledged $100,000 to.
But beyond the money and the political action, these tech companies — that have grown up over the course of this fundamental shift in our country’s stance toward marriage — do something that is perhaps much more valuable.
Facebook not only has an option to be listed as gay or lesbian or bisexual, but there are now up to 50 different gender identity options for LGBTQ individuals who identify as something other than male or female. In fact, users can choose up to ten different self-identifying options, with pronouns included.
These companies are trusted brands with loyal followings who are pushing the agenda of the gay rights movement into the mainstream. And meanwhile, smaller companies like Grindr and Hornet and Dattch look to serve a relatively underserved group of people looking to find love. Or sex.
That’s not to say that the tech industry’s relationship with gay rights doesn’t have its shortcomings. Stereotypes are still at play. Some people in tech are still afraid to come out of the closet.
But the role that the tech industry has played in the history of the gay rights movement can not be understated. So today, on the anniversary of Stonewall and the eight anniversary of “Jordan goes to Pride”, I want to tell a quick story.
When I was a kid, I was more of a tomboy than you can imagine. I had short hair, played sports, and I wore the clothes that I begged my mom for — the ones in the boys section of Gap Kids. In third grade, our teacher went around the room and asked everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up.
I said I wanted to be a talk show host on TV like Oprah.
“Hmm,” said Mrs. Gallagher, pausing to examine my blue and white-striped polo, short blond hair and long khaki cargo shorts. “You’re going to have to learn to put on a dress,” she said before moving on to the next person in class.
I was pretty devastated. I started to realize, at the young age of 8, that I was automatically limited in what I was going to be able to do with my life. Forget childhood dreams of being a model or a singer or an actress. No fame and fortune for me, the girl who refused to wear dresses. I couldn’t even imagine what I’d wear to work in an office like my dad worked in. A suit, maybe, but I wasn’t sure that would be allowed.
As I grew up, I used the internet to figure out my sexuality just like the next guy. I connected with friends who didn’t go to my stupid Christian school who understood what I was going through. Who told me I wasn’t alone. By the time I had come out and started college, I didn’t feel quite so limited.
“It Gets Better” had just started. Ellen Degeneres had returned from the dead to be one of the most brilliant, talented, and dearly loved talk show hosts ever.
Today, I host a TCTV show called Fly or Die. I host our TechCrunch regional meetups and our major conference, Disrupt, live on stage. It’s not a talk show on TV, but I get to write, and I love my job more than anything. And without tech, I wouldn’t have it.
Oh, and Mrs. Gallagher, I still don’t wear dresses.
#Love is a new column on TechCrunch dealing with digital matters of the heart. It explores our relationships, their relationship with technology, and all the gory details that come with it. Jordan Crook will be leading the charge, and is looking for guest writers to tell their own stories each week. Maybe you found your soul mate on Tinder, or got dumped on Facebook, or have an outrageously interesting sext life. We all have our stories. If you’re interested in contributing, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line #Love for more details.