TL:DR I did not meet the President, the First Lady, or the dog. Maybe next time. 🙂
I read an article the other day on tips for writing a good event recap. The first tip was to post your recap within 48 hours of the event. Since I went to the White House six weeks ago on July 7th, obviously that’s not happening. But I still wanted to reflect on the event and introduce you to some of the people I met and the awesome work they are doing.
The event was organized by Leanne Pitts & Taryn Miller-Stevens, the team responsible for the first ever Lesbians Who Tech summit earlier this year in San Francisco.
How I Got There
I was invited to be a part of the Maven cohort by Monica Arrambide, whom I met at Lesbians Who Tech earlier this year. Maven works to empower LGBTQ youth to network, organize and educate for social change.
Before the summit, the Maven group met for breakfast at a nearby cafe where we got a chance to introduce ourselves to the group and share what particular passions had brought us to the summit.
Afterwards we walked over and stood in line to be cleared for entry into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. This included handing over ID two separate times, standing just inside the door to be given the sniff over by the security dog and then going through an airport style metal detector.
We were escorted into a small auditorium, which quickly filled past capacity with people standing in the back throughout the summit.
For me, one of the most exciting things about this summit, was the people in attendance. The organizers and organizations involved worked very hard to make sure the people in the room were truly diverse. The attendees were 50% women and there were a large number of people of color and trans* people. Just the fact of having that kind of group with a seat at the table at the White House was very uplifting. It was a far cry from the types of people who usually roam the halls of power.
I have literally never been in a room with that many trans* people of color and it made me happy to see so much representation of some of the most marginalized groups in our community.
Folks were not shy about challenging the government officials in attendance to do better in proving support for the most vulnerable and struggling populations in our community.
The original invitation for the summit read:
This event will bring together individuals who share a desire to tackle the major challenges faced by LGBT communities through new solutions using technology, partnerships, mentorship, media, networks, and creative, market-driven, scalable models. Attendees will engage with Obama Administration officials and national community leaders about current challenges, opportunities, and successful solutions. Attendees will be active participants throughout the day: sharing insights and observations during a group session, and collaborating and brainstorming in off-site workshops.
It’s a pretty lofty goal and they didn’t completely pull it off. Though there were two different times blocked off for attendees to give 30 second pitches about what they were working on, we never did get the opportunity to break into small groups. There was a reception following the event, held in the Indian Treaty room, but the loud, echo-y quality of the room made it difficult to impossible to really connect with people.
That said, there was a nice mix of speakers throughout the day and the format varied between interviews, presentations and panels.
Leanne Pittsford interviewed Megan Smith, Vice President of Google X, who talked not only about the history of LGTBQ people in tech, but also about some things Google is doing to work on unconscious bias issues in the workplace and how technology can help.
Ashlee Davis is the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the US Department of Agriculture. She’s also a big, butch, Black lesbian and it made did my heart glad to see someone like her working in the highest levels of government.
You might be wondering what the USDA has to do with LGBTQ issues? Davis informed us that the only government agency that touches more people is the postal service. It’s easy to think that all the queer people are living in wealthy metropolitan areas, but Davis is focusing on the particular issues of LGTBQ populations in rural areas.
Working with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Davis’s office is putting on a series of Rural Pride Summits to engage with LGBT rural communities across the country. Davis gave the kind of impassioned presentation that makes you want to stand up and volunteer as tribute at the end of it.
During the part of the day spent addressing challenges and opportunities facing LGTBQ communities, one common theme from some of the panelists was the lack of data available through the census and how challenging it is to change the questions. It literally takes years to get questions changed or added to the U.S. census. But there are people working on it.
My favorite speaker of the day was Geena Rocero. Geena is a supermodel who earlier this year came out as transgender during a Ted Talk that has since received over 2 million views. She talked about growing up in the Philippines with a supportive family and community, participating in transgender beauty pageants as a young woman, and the motivation to come to the U.S. when she found out she could legally change her gender marker on her ID.
Geena’s talk was eloquent and moving and by far, my favorite part of the day.
Geena’s new project is the non-profit organization Gender Proud, which works to advance transgender rights all over the world.
Hilary Hartley is a former Presidential Fellow and the Creative Director of 18F, a government tech agency, which is bringing modern, open source technology and applying it to hard problems in government and beyond.
18F has launched projects like notalone.gov, a responsive open source site that took a bunch of disparate closed data and made it available to people working to prevent campus sexual assault. The site was built in 17 days, which is basically the speed of light when it comes to getting things done in a government agency.
18F has many projects on Github. You can now serve your country with pull requests!
People You Should Know
In addition to the official presentations, there were two sessions of 30 second pitches, where anyone could line up to talk about their work, seek help and/or advice or offer their skills.
Here are a some of the people and projects we heard about.
- Michael David Battle told us about the Garden of Peace project:
- Allyson Robinson of the LGBT Technology Partnership Institute talked about how access to technology, particularly smart phones can have a dramatic difference for the outcomes of homeless queer youth.
- Michelle Dowell-Vest runs A Gurlz Guide and also has a nice recap of the day.
- Terésa Dowell-Vest is a writer / filmmaker who’s work includes the film Shirts vs Skins and the book Passage Home
- Cole B is working on Brioxy, a to-do list and mentoring community focused on young queer people of color.
- Kortney Ziegler is the founder of Trans*H4Ck
- Katrina Goodlett hosts the Kitty Bella Radio Show
In short, there are a lot of good people doing some amazing work. Check out the folks above, share and contribute to their work.
And stay tuned for more on my next big project which came out of a partnership with one of my fellow White House Summit attendees.