White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Briefing addresses national issues

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The country faces a plethora of issues that affect millions of people every day. Although there has been some progress as a society around pro-LGBTQ legislation and healthcare, there is a lot left to be done around poverty, criminal justice reform, federal statistics around LGBTQ people, youth solutions, mental health, the environment, education and inclusion in tech.

Today at the White House, over 300 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people came together for the third annual LGBT Tech and Innovation Briefing to address some of our nation’s biggest problems.

Attendees included an engineer at Google working on the self-driving car project, a senior manager at Hulu, a data scientist at Tesla, someone who worked on custom gender and anti-abuse at Facebook, me (yay!) and many other technologists. The idea was to bring together some of the best LGBTQ minds in tech and include them in government processes. The day included welcome talks by U.S. CTO Megan Smith and Lesbians Who Tech CEO Leanne Pittsford, Ask & Offers from attendees, talks on issues like criminal justice and entrepreneurship and group breakouts on those topics.

“There has been a challenge in government where people from our community have been at arm’s length,” Smith said.

Keeping LGBTQ people at arm’s length has surely contributed to the marginalization of the community. It’s beyond past due for the government to ensure that everyone is represented in legislation and public services.

Smith also mentioned how there are 22 million young people who receive free lunch and breakfast during the school year, but how that number drops to 5 million during the summer. There’s plenty of technology around restaurant and food delivery, Smith said, “but what about real-time poverty?”

Examples of startups that are trying to effect change for marginalized populations include mRelief, which helps to ensure low-income students get access to meals over the summer, and HandUp, which helps homeless people access resources via crowdfunding. But startups working on real issues that affect millions of people are few and far between. Just think about how big of an impact the tech community could have on actual, life-altering problems people face in our society if the same amount of resources went toward them as they do to more consumer-driven products.

The LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Briefing is also about building the foundation for the most “innovative and inclusive technology summit” this November, Lesbians Who Tech CEO Leanne Pittsford said. Visibility and representation matters, Pittsford said. That’s why today’s event, as well as the upcoming inclusion and innovation week in November, have intentional inclusion at the core. That entails representation goals of 50 percent people of color, 50 percent women, 20 percent trans and gender non-conforming people, geography, company size, type of company and skills.

“We want to show the world this is what inclusion and innovation looks like,” Pittsford said.

During the Ask & Offer portion of the morning, all of the participants gave brief talks on who they are, what they were looking to get out of the day and what they can offer other attendees. The offers included opportunities to work on tech that enables marginalized communities to improve interactions with police and to help with back-end engineering.

The second part of the morning included lightning talks on the environment, women and girls, health and mental health, the Tech Hire and Inclusion pledge, entrepreneurship and innovation, youth solutions and programs, federal statistics on LGBTQ people and criminal justice reform.

According to Denice Ross, senior policy adviser at the White House and co-lead of the Police Data Initiative, thanks to the Police Data Initiative, which launched last May, 75 police jurisdictions have collectively released more than 150 data sets about policing, including information around use of force.

“Two years ago, there were zero data sets about use of force or officer-involved shootings,” Ross said. “Now there’s more than 150 out there.”

Moving forward, the Police Data Initiative’s ask to the LGBTQ tech community is for people to get more involved with their local police departments by doing ride-alongs, learning about the culture and then working to liberate data that’s locked inside legacy systems and offer data visualization to tell a more complete story of what’s going on.

In the afternoon, we broke out into groups to discuss potential solutions across the areas explored in the morning’s lightning talks. That part of the day was off the record, but the point of it was to outline how attendees in November can dive right into the problems and start creating solutions.

Featured Image: TechCrunch/Megan Rose Dickey