Leanne Pittsford is cultivating her own "gay agenda" in 2014. With the successful culmination of the gay and lesbian community's two main federal policy goals, dismantling both "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), many have been wondering what the future agenda might entail.
Those in the broader LGBT community who believe that repeal of DADT and DOMA came at the expense of addressing nationwide economic disparities faced by the community, especially queer men and women of color, believe that a more focused economic agenda is in order. This is where Pittsford enters the scene, as an entrepreneur, technology strategist, and tech investor. Lesbians Who Tech, an organization that she founded in December 2012, and for which she now serves as CEO, is a venture that aims to create an entrepreneurial space within the tech industry for lesbians, and women in general, who are also social advocates.
The mission of Lesbians Who Tech is fourfold: to increase the visibility of lesbians within tech fields; to increase their visibility outside the queer women's community; to increase the number of queer women in tech; and to connect lesbians in tech to larger platforms concerning activism and social awareness.
The organization recently discussed its mission at its inaugural summit, which took place from Feb. 28 to March 2 at the legendary Castro Theater in San Francisco, with over 800 queer women and their allies in attendance. In "The Social Good" session, for example, panelists and attendees debated how nonprofits can use technology to achieve their goals and work toward those goals.
The diversity of speakers attests to the organization's dual agenda of increasing the number of women and lesbians in tech and infusing the tech industry with social activism. From digitalundivided's Kathryn Finney to National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendall, this diversity also speaks to the widespread interest in addressing gender inequality in the tech industry.
Speaking with me, Pittsford emphasized the extent to which sexism pervades the tech industry. In response to recent data that revealed that women in tech make an average of 49 cents to each dollar that men make in Silicon Valley, she said, "Tech is sexist, but we had no idea how bad."
Pittsford then explained how if you are a lesbian couple working in Silicon Valley, the economic disparity is doubled, even though there is no official data acknowledging that the LGBT community is discriminated against in the tech industry. The truth of the matter is that there are significant economic differences between the Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts, a fact that is often overlooked because gay men are relatively more financially secure than lesbians and, even more significantly, the trans* community. This disparity becomes magnified when factors of race and ethnicity are added to the equation, as documented thoroughly in The Scholar & Feminist Online's publication "A New Queer Agenda."
"Finding economic power in the lesbian community," Pittsford noted, has been a long-term interest of hers, which began earlier in her career while working for Equality California through her creation of the digital agency Start Somewhere, which assists nonprofits in utilizing technology.
"Women not only have less money than their male counterparts," she explained, "but they haven't been as institutionally wealthy, so [they] don't have the tools to talk about it, and [they] don't even know how to feel about it."
Lesbians Who Tech works to establish this space, literally: Originally conceptualized as a happy-hour meetup in San Francisco, the meetups have spread to 12 different cities stateside, as well as to three international cities, and include over 3,500 members.
While San Francisco may serve as the organization's home base, Pittsford is looking to supplement the inaugural summit with a happy hour in New York City this coming April.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post put the number of attendees at the inaugural Lesbians Who Tech summit at 600. According to Leanne Pittsford, the number was actually 800. Additionally, the earlier earlier version of this post asserted that Pittsford intends to have a second, half-day summit in New York City in April. In fact, she's planning a happy hour. This post has been updated accordingly.