In the US, over the past decade, LGBT rights has progressed dramatically. However, progress in other parts of the world has been slow. Today, while the United Nations blocked an attempt by anti-LGBT countries in Africa to end the post of UN Independent Expert to monitor violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals, the vote was close.
The tech sector has a responsibility and unique opportunity to reduce LGBT inequality around the world. The tech sector has been a driving force of equality in American politics. In 2014, San Francisco based Salesforce.com, the largest tech employer in Indiana, threatened to relocate its entire operations from the state unless then governor Mike Pence adjusted some equality legislation.
It is no coincidence that the tech community has made a significant impact on LGBT equality in the US. The same cities that have a thriving tech scene are also centers of gay culture. Stonewall in New York marked the beginning of the gay rights movement. San Francisco and Boston held the first gay marriages. Los Angeles, Austin, and Seattle have significant gay populations.
This means, tech workers work in companies who have made LGBT equality central to their political advocacy, and live in communities that have seen dramatic positive shifts in LGBT equality over the past decade ... are collaborating in real time with outsourced team members in countries with some of the worst LGBT rights records in the world.
They are on Slack with programmers in Russia, which has an LGBT rights ranking similar to countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They're running Skype meetings with developers in India, where sexual activity between two people of the same gender remains illegal. They are collaborating with customer support staff in Indonesia, where 93% of respondents to a Pew Research Center Survey responded "No" to the question, "Should society accept homosexuality?"
Do we, as a tech industry have a responsibility to export the successes we've had in the US overseas? And, given that many of us in the tech industry are gay ourselves can we help normalize homosexuality among our international co-workers? Is tech outsourcing the international gay rights trojan horse?
Even in the US, the younger the demographic, the more open to LGBT rights they tend to be. Tech workers around the world tend to be younger and therefore more open-minded than the rest of their culture. They learned English and learned about American culture by watching TV shows like Friends and Beverly Hills 90210. They are the most likely within their community to have shifting views on LGBT equality.
Individuals with higher education, in all societies, tend to be more for LGBT rights. Tech jobs require education, and so are limited to the most qualified and educated people within that country.
In India, tech jobs often require higher education, restricting the work to the 8% or so that have that schooling.
In Ukraine, tech workers can earn 10x more than the average. This kind of accomplishment earns respect from family members and friends within the community. It means that their shifting perspectives on LGBT rights can help shift family members and friends.
It is the exposure to successful LGBT individuals that has the greatest impact on feelings about LGBT rights. In India, Ukraine, Russia, and other locations where gay rights are in their infancy, the gay community stays hidden. But, for those of us who work with international staff on a daily basis, enabled by technology, it’s our opportunity to tell our own stories and be open across borders and technology.
In addition to fostering diversity, it may help drive equal rights in countries around the world.