We live in a world where in at least 69 countries, there are national laws that criminalize same-sex relations between adults, though it’s only fair to note that this number has been decreasing over time. Emerging technologies play an important role in the process of protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people from violence and discrimination and providing access to healthcare and financial services. Being part of the LGBTQ community myself, I witness the many positive changes that decentralized technologies can offer us as a community.
Last year, the world witnessed the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still affecting everyone today. According to research released last month, “People with HIV have an increased risk of being admitted to [the] hospital with severe COVID-19 and of dying from COVID-19.” According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the population most vulnerable to HIV is the LGBTQ community, with the risk of acquiring HIV being 34 times higher for transgender women and 25 times higher among gay men. In response, the LGBT Foundation has decided to place HIV tests on the blockchain, which “makes the entire process transparent and traceable” and helps prevent HIV from spreading among vulnerable populations. As Erik Lamontagne, senior economist at UNAIDS, said: “This technology enables us to move almost as quickly as epidemics are moving. And this is fantastic! This is one of the opportunities.”
Even in developed countries, such as the United States, LGBTQ people face financial challenges because of their sexual or gender identity. Cryptocurrencies and decentralized finance can improve financial accessibility and inclusion, especially for minority groups, and blockchain technology can transparently distribute funding, which also can benefit the LGBTQ community.
Emerging technologies are gaining momentum, becoming not just an innovative niche industry but rather our daily practice. To find out what crypto and blockchain industry representatives think about the impact of these technologies on the LGBTQ community, Cointelegraph reached out to a number of them to ask their opinions on the following questions: Can emerging technologies help members of the LGBTQ community improve their lives? And if yes, how?2.
Caroline Pugliese of Rally:
Caroline is the director of creator partnerships, entertainment, at Rally — an open network that enables creators to launch independent economies powered by the Ethereum blockchain.
“Crypto offers some of the most positive developments and opportunities for the LGBTQ community that we’ve seen in tech over the past few decades. Social tokens, in particular, are a burgeoning space that’s ideal for building community support for LGBTQ talent and small businesses, as well as providing space for specific cause-driven activations without the risk of being deplatformed or demonetized. The privacy that blockchain can provide and the open access to many crypto platforms allows people to participate even when their community or physical location is not accepting of the LGBTQ population.
The emergence of DAOs is also very promising for the digital communities that are being created. They can be remarkably niche, formed around topics that allow people to come together around a cause and create opportunities in a fair, community-oriented way. DAOs have the potential to create ways for members to have a safe space to communicate, have a say in the governance of a project and find ways to give back to both the DAO members and the larger LGBTQ community around the world. At the same time, the emergence of NFTs and their ongoing royalties provide LGBTQ talent, who may have previously struggled to find equal opportunities for their creative work, a way to get compensated and be given credit for what they have created.”3.
Christof Wittig of Hornet:
Christof is the founder and CEO of Hornet, a queer social network with over 30 million users worldwide.
“Emerging technologies play a major role for the LGBTQ community, whether we like it or not.
On the negative side, 64% of adult LGBTQ Americans have reported online discrimination and harassment on the ‘big five’ heteronormative social networks [Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok], according to the recently published Social Media Safety Index by GLAAD. That is the highest number of positive responses among any minority in the U.S. and is up from 40% in a similar study conducted by Hornet and Kantar in 2018. We see day in and day out how technology amplifies all aspects of our lives, including all the negatives, from LGBTQ discrimination in the U.S. to the actions of the 71 countries that are still criminalizing being LGBTQ today.
On the positive side, we can use the sheer scale of technology to make it a powerful force for good. Hornet’s social network provides a safe space for members of the LGBTQ community, allowing authentic social connections to emerge even when people are locked down during COVID-19, live in a far-flung place away from the queer centers of this world, or are inhibited through other reasons from easily connecting with other queer people to find that inherent love and belonging that is so easily experienceable in offline community meetups, etc.
Hornet already makes extensive use of AI to detect suspicious patterns to identify catfish, spammers and attackers, and we continuously seek to develop ‘proof-of-work’ concepts such as the ‘Hornet Badge’ to verify identities. We cannot rely on government-issued IDs as these could turn into peril if such information were to get into the wrong hands (including by hacking, government court orders, or through carelessness or profiteering by companies that don’t put the well-being of our community front and center in their business.)
In the long run, I believe that blockchain, a decentralized technology, is a perfect match for a decentralized community like ours. And just like a nation-state has IDs, a currency and a budget, blockchain gives us the tools to provide for identity (pseudonymity), value storage and transfer, and some form of funding or taxation to put resources behind projects of common interest. To this end, we have initiated the LGBT Foundation and look forward to working with interested members of the crypto and the LGBTQ communities to develop the underlying infrastructure.”4.
Cristina Dolan of InsideChains:
Cristina is the founder and CEO of InsideChains, which helps organizations create solutions and new business models by utilizing a blockchain layer for trust. She is also former chair of MIT Enterprise Forum and co-author of the upcoming book “Transparency in ESG and the Circular Economy.”
“When Apple first released its credit card, there were stories about gender discrimination. Traditional banks are risk averse and regulated to prevent systemic risk, which can result in unintentional discrimination and lack of inclusivity. Gender doesn’t need to be a factor in the eligibility for financial services. Technology is powering new fintech solutions that offer a wide array of innovative services.
Open banking has made it possible for AI and data-enabled credit solutions to be offered at scale in cost-effective ways. Individuals and companies now have access to credit without the requirement for traditional historical risk profiles. Neobanks offer cost-effective, efficient transactions.
Today, crypto-enabled platforms are offering greater returns and a variety of services that do not have narrow requirements for eligibility. Account access on blockchain platforms is controlled by customers with their private and public keypairs and doesn’t require an intermediary organization. A new generation of verification platforms allows for third-party identity verification, eliminating full disclosure of sensitive information with every financial institution for Know Your Customer regulatory disclosures. Distributed and advanced technologies are providing a growing number of improved financial services to a more diverse population where customers have greater control.”5.
Don Richmond of Filmio:
Don is the chief marketing officer of Filmio Inc., a decentralized entertainment ecosystem for the filmmaking and TV industries.
“Blockchain is a great tool to circumvent oppressive power structures. Although the technology does not necessarily have the capacity to provide the rights and freedoms that members of the LGBTQ community deserve, it has the ability to offer financial and organizational viability via its decentralized, democratic protocols. As many societies in many parts of the world try to exclude LGBTQ members from fair participation in the economy, blockchain can provide alternative means to earning income and building businesses.
But beyond the economic factor, there is even plenty of potential within the arts to empower the LGBTQ communities around the world to connect, create, fund and share. For example, in countries where LGBTQ films are not permitted or socially accepted — and therefore do not get funding and/or an audience — blockchain can give creators who are either part of the LGBTQ community or want to talk about LGBTQ issues the means to find their audience, market their project, and get funding and distribution.
Emergent technologies have taken a giant step toward disintermediating the prevailing power structures and have placed access to resources back into the hands of the people.”6.
Elissa Shevinsky of Cointelegraph:
Elissa is the chief technology officer of Cointelegraph, the world’s foremost blockchain-focused media platform.
“We are seeing that NFTs can be a vehicle to help artists and other creatives support their work, outside traditional funding sources (whether that’s Hollywood or Wall Street.) One of my favorite examples is seeing Mila Kunis produce Stoner Cats as an NFT in partnership with Big Head. Even someone as powerful as Kunis felt the difficulties of getting funding for non-mainstream art.
We’re seeing many artists — less well-known artists — using NFTs to connect with patrons and collectors. This helps a very wide range of previously marginalized people, and certainly LGBTQAI people.
As for other emerging tech, there’s good and bad. AI is the classic example. Do we have the wisdom and foresight to use AI for good? Who is harmed if we do not?”7.
Eloisa Marchesoni, ICO, IEO and STO adviser:
Eloisa is also the co-founder of Blackchain, a management consulting company focusing on the blockchain industry.
“Online surveillance and censorship have cast a shadow over this marginalized community.
Tokyo-based Famiee Project began to issue blockchain-backed partnership certificates for same-sex couples in early 2021. To apply for a certificate, couples need to download an app, verify their personal details and sign a declaration. Using blockchain means the data is not changed, and the system works without some central owners, keeping the data available for the family and their next generations. From employer spousal benefits, including parental leave and life insurance, to getting permission from landlords to live together, the practical benefits couples gain from obtaining a recognized proof of marriage can have a material impact on the lives and finances of LGBTQ partners.
Plans for the LGBT Token went far beyond just setting up a cryptocurrency, with goals including:
- Using the LGBT Token to buy at-risk gay users airplane tickets to escape.
- Directly funding LGBT organizations without the money being blocked by anti-LGBT governments.
- Granting access to reliable, affordable HIV tests without visiting a hard-to-reach healthcare center and risking outing.
- Event ticket purchases via app, gaining access to events with a QR-code, all while keeping identities protected.
Finding a way to transfer money that doesn’t need approval from a government that may outlaw being LGBTQ is crucial now.”8.
Giacomo Arcaro, European growth hacker:
Giacomo is also the chief marketing officer of Blackchain, a management consulting company focusing on the blockchain industry.
“One of the use cases of blockchain that still has yet to reach mass adoption is data privacy. If you are browsing Google Chrome, Google is watching you and collecting your data, and at any moment, an oppressive government can order Google to hand over your data to see what you have been viewing. Browsers like Brave allow you to store your data on a blockchain, and because you own your private keys, no third party can step in and take a look.
Blockchains are decentralized and encrypted, so your data is 100% safe as long as you own the private keys and hide them well so that no oppressive government can gain access. This data privacy aspect of blockchain will undoubtedly grow in use cases as centralized entities gain more and more power.
The obvious protections here allow for LGBTQ members to no longer fear search engines, as they can freely browse without entity involvement peeking in. The data protections allow them to purchase items as they please, as well, without running the risk of interception, empowering the LGBTQ community economically as well as boosting privacy.”9.
Jarrell James of cLabs:
Jarrell is the head of developer relations at cLabs, a member of the Alliance for Prosperity and part of the community working on Celo — an open, decentralized platform designed to support stablecoins and tokenized assets.
“There are a number of emerging technologies that are poised to elevate the lives of LGBTQ folks and, really, any disenfranchised person. The early days of Facebook groups allowed for millions of queer people from around the world to organize and create space for themselves and subsequently fight for legislation that reflected their reality. In the same vein, there is a ton of promise in using mobile peer-to-peer transactions to help queer folks looking to fund a transition while staying anonymous or raise money to leave an oppressive situation, whatever it may be.
In addition, projects like Mirror not only allow queer voices to be heard but also compensated securely and in real time, simply for being themselves and sharing their experiences with the world through writing. Many of the decentralized communities building technology ecosystems, like Ethereum and Celo, are highly inclusive and designed to elevate voices from all corners of the globe.”10.
Joe DiPasquale of BitBull Capital and StartOut:
Joe is the CEO of BitBull Capital, which manages cryptocurrency hedge funds, and a co-founder of StartOut, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating business leaders by fostering lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer entrepreneurs.
“Technology has been of the utmost importance to the LGBTQ community. From our formative years, many use technology and social platforms to find other LGBTQ people, even before they’ve come out or spoken out to those around them. Often, the first research people will do is online and on forums.
LGBT youth make up more than 40% of homeless youth in America. So, the importance of technological platforms to help connectivity, whether this is through the web or even through apps and mobile phones that underprivileged youth have access to, cannot be overstated.
The impact of technology now in healthcare is also vastly important, from the advent of HIV drugs (from those that treat to those that prevent) to the increase in knowledge transfer for specific LGBTQ issues around health among doctors often only familiar with heteronormative medicine.
With the blockchain, many pioneering LGBT entrepreneurs have looked into ways to support the community through commerce, from LGBT Token to chambers of commerce focused on queer people. One important thing I always hear from those working in the AI and blockchain space is how diverse it is as opposed to other industries. The technology and meritocratic focus of our vertical lends itself to open-minded, forward-thinking people.
With NFTs, artists have the ability to create unique digital art and have ownership of those rights. Due to its digital nature, the art can be very specific and be still appreciated by a number of people. I was just speaking with a friend recently about an international digital artist whose art he was appreciating from around the world because it spoke to something they both had experienced as LGBTQ people but wouldn’t necessarily have connected through before if bound to the physical realm of art.
Technology has absolutely helped me on my own journey as an LGBTQ person and will certainly continue with the new advancements in health, finance, safety and representation that we are seeing burgeoning with the most recent advancements.”11.
Li Jun of Ontology:
Li is the founder of Ontology, a blockchain for self-sovereign ID, decentralized digital ID and data.
“Unfortunately, centralized systems and existing technology no longer provide the security needed to ensure users are protected from bad actors. Every day, we hear of more data leaks and further security breaches. For LGBTQ people living in certain countries, the leaking of private information related to their digital identities can cause genuine danger and, in some instances, can even become a matter of life or death.
People should have a right to control how their identity is tracked in the digital sphere. Decentralized identity protocols built on blockchains can give users back control over what they share online and with whom. Among the current regulatory chatter that often criticizes the anonymity afforded by blockchain, it is important to note that some minorities are not afforded the luxury of privacy or civil liberties, making anonymity not only essential for them but also one of the beautiful benefits of blockchain technology.”12.
Mike Musante of Decentralized Pictures:
Mike is a co-founder of Decentralized Pictures, a nonprofit organization and blockchain-based filmmaking platform.
“The film industry has traditionally been very insular and somewhat closed off to new and innovative voices in film, art and culture. Blockchain technology has the power to open it up by democratizing the process of talent and content curation, allowing for greater inclusion in the voices that get to speak through media and film. Our decentralized platform’s mission is to provide access to independent and underrepresented talent hoping to break into the film industry, by promoting a content curation process through which users all over the world vote on the most deserving projects.
Unfortunately, only a small percentage of current filmmakers are part of the LGBTQ community, despite its many talented, passionate members. Often, these individuals face inherent biases, which can be eliminated by utilizing blockchain technology for a fair voting process.”13.
Paul McNeal, Bitcoin evangelist:
Paul is the news curator at The Crypto Curator, a platform with news, podcasts, video, blogs and social media information about crypto.
“‘Bitcoin fixes this.’ We’ve heard this so many times and for so many reasons. Since being exposed to Bitcoin back in 2011, I’ve come to understand the power it possesses in all aspects of life. There is this ‘unifying force’ that pulls people in from all walks of life.
I believe the LGBTQ community can benefit by being involved in the Bitcoin community. Not only will it change the trajectory of your financial future, it will also bring you into a community that doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you are gay, straight, black, white, religious, atheist, Democrat, Republican, etc. — what matters is that you come to understand that Bitcoin is for everyone.
When you buy Bitcoin, ‘it’ gets better. What is ‘it’? It is different for everyone. Bitcoin provides freedom, where you can live on your terms and not someone else’s. It increases your resources year over year and decreases your stress because you have more to work with.
I strongly encourage you to get involved on social media. If you do, you will see just how amazing the Bitcoin community can be. I’ve built some amazing friendships with folks, and they don’t care that I am gay. My life has been transformed by being involved in Bitcoin, and I hope yours will too.”14.
Robbie Heeger of Endaoment:
Robbie is the president and CEO of Endaoment, a community foundation and public charity offering donor-advised funds built atop the Ethereum blockchain.
“Emerging technologies, especially blockchain technology, can be a powerful force for acceptance, equity and change in our society — especially for those who’ve been historically marginalized and oppressed.
Not only have some platforms spurred direct action and fundraising for community organizations working with the LGBTQIA community but the technology powering these platforms is transformationally anonymized and accessible. Where people were once discriminated against for their orientation, they are now free to access markets and financial tools that have been historically segregated to those in positions of power and wealth. No longer is financial freedom hidden behind dubious character evaluations or burdensome application processes meant to reinforce the othering of those who are different.
Systemic oppression demonizes unique identities and cultures to shut people out of economic opportunity, reinforcing the false argument that those who are different from the masses are worse off and a drain on society. Nothing could be further from the truth. The iterative, inclusive, permissionless accessibility of blockchain infrastructure celebrates those who build from crypto’s first principles. These developers are building tools for a world that not only don’t discriminate but physically can’t discriminate — encouraging the adoption of solutions that serve the widest possible cross-section of society.”15.
Shidan Gouran of Gulf Pearl:
Shidan is a co-founder of Gulf Pearl, a Canadian merchant bank and advisory firm with a focus on emerging technologies.
“With respect to blockchain technology, the ability to easily move wealth from one country to another and to prevent seizure of assets due to belonging to a particular religious, political, social or ethnic group is a very powerful feature that public blockchains can enable. All truly democratic countries should implement safeguard measures against the potential of a tyrannical government formation because no system is perfect.
I believe digital bearer instruments enabled by blockchains are one such safeguard. There are countries where members of the LGBTQ community face such discrimination, and being able to secure a measure of their wealth in the event of such a potential threat is a very powerful feature.
Of course, these technologies, like any powerful tool, can also be used for great harm to society, such as ransomware and money laundering. Both sides of the equation need to be considered when it comes to regulations.”
These quotes have been edited and condensed.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the authors’ alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.