LGBTQ+ Pride has come a long way since its beginnings in the 1970s. As awareness of the LGBTQ+ community continues to increase and evolve, it is more and more apparent that technology will be a major tool for increased visibility.
Research already shows that LGBTQ+ individuals are early adopters of technology (more than 80% of LGBTQ+ respondents say they utilize social media, compared to 58% of the general population) and that one major way that the LGBTQ+ community has grown and organized has been through the adoption of technology for community building and connection.
VR technology has the potential to be the next frontier in the LGBTQ+ community’s efforts for visibility, awareness, and community building.
To the uninitiated, virtual reality is a type of simulation wherein a person can artificially interact in a 3D environment. It allows people to sense computer-generated surroundings in an almost lifelike manner through a uniquely designed lens. Novel ways of using VR technology, like the ones highlighted below, will allow the global LGBTQ+ community to feel supported in unconventional yet impactful ways.
Pride Through The Lens
While Pride celebrations take place in big cities around the world, people from small towns have limited avenues to celebrate with their community. This lack of community can be a great source of turmoil for isolated LGBTQ+ individuals to face.
Sergio Urrego, a Colombian student who had been discriminated against for his sexual identity, was a victim of this, committing suicide over the lack of support he felt at school. As a response, his local community saw the necessity for Pride celebrations to paint a better light for the LGBTQ+ community in remote areas. This also had the benefit of allowing the more remote members of the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate Pride virtually—no matter where in the world they were located.
How Was Pride Brought to Remote Areas?
Noticing the discrimination people face for being themselves, Google collaborated with Fundación Sergio Urrego to host the #Prideforeveryone movement—a virtual experience anyone can access. It’s a documented reimagination of five Pride parades around the world, allowing viewers to witness the global scale of Pride through the (now-defunct) 360-degree cameras from Google Cardboard lens.
The #Prideforeveryone movement allows people to immerse themselves in a larger community and to know that they’re not alone. It gives a glimpse of the unity shared among the LGBTQ+ community—one that’s fully captured through technology. “I think these types of campaigns, are the ones that help create peace,” says Sergio’s mother.
From a remote high school miles away from a Pride-hosting city, students with LGBTQ+ identities relive Pride as it happened and participate in it through VR technology. It empowers members from remote areas and helps people understand the plight and solidarity of the community better.
Creation of Digital Safe Spaces Through VR
Another appealing use of VR technology for LGBTQ+ individuals is the ability of VR spaces to host real-time social interactions in safe and inclusive environments without fear of stigmatization. This can be achieved through community-based games where interaction among players is made simple.
For example, platforms and games like VRChat and Second Life allow their users to interact in rooms dressed as an avatar of their chosen gender. This can be done by importing 3D models where people can interact with other users through chatting, community games, and other ways. All a person has to do is set up their VR system, download and boot up the game (VRChat or Second Life), and find a room to interact with people. The impact of this fluidity on a questioning LGBTQ+ individual should not be underestimated.
According to a study by Linas Staniukynas, VRChat’s in-game features can elicit a sense of gender euphoria as transgender individuals can inhabit a body through VR’s HMDs. For closeted transgender individuals, this also acts as an avenue for them to realize their chosen gender through technology. “It’s so therapeutic to look in the mirror and see a girl, even if it’s virtual,” says one participant when asked about VRChat. Virtual reality allows these members to connect with similar people from all over through technology, without the fear of prejudice.
VR Technology: Real-World Benefits
VR technology is still a growing field and most of its potential for LGBTQ+ individuals remains to be unlocked, but as shown, it can help LGBTQ+ individuals in multiple ways. These benefits can include promoting LGBTQ+ community building while lessening social anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
It can also serve as a safe escape where people can be themselves without fear of violence or discrimination. This is just the tip of the iceberg as to what is and will soon be possible using XR technologies.Guest Post
About the Guest Author(s)
Carlos Gutierrez is Deputy Director & General Counsel for the LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute, which works to improve access, increase inclusion, ensure safety and empower entrepreneurship for LGBTQ+ communities around technology.