Technology has become central to everyday life. From finding new ways to make money smarter to communicating with each other, humankind is reliant on technology companies to provide these services for us. But despite its great influence over modern life, tech still faces a diversity problem. While some progress is beginning to be made, a cursory glance across the C-level ranks of most companies shows a strong oversupply of straight white men.
Emerging tech sectors have not historically been the most inclusive or open-minded, but projects such as LGBT Token, TransTech Social Enterprises and StartOut show that there is both representation and support for LGBTQ+ people in tech.
Nonetheless, it’s no secret that cryptocurrency’s unique nature and ideals can draw in a wide range of interested parties, many of whom have strong, and occasionally extreme, political beliefs. Despite this, crypto appears to be a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ people, according to industry leaders.
Crypto is supportive of LGBTQ+ rights
The global financial industry and many of the world’s most prominent tech hubs are not famed for their inclusivity. But for Sarah Jamie Lewis, the executive director of the Open Privacy Research Society, the disruptive nature of crypto and other emerging technologies has the power to destroy oppressive structures. Decentralization gives individuals and minority groups power that wouldn’t otherwise be available. For Paul McNeal, a self-described Bitcoin (BTC) evangelist and prominent Twitter commentator, the crypto sector has been supportive of LGBTQ+ rights:
“Not once have I had anyone on Crypto Twitter or any other medium make an issue of my sexual orientation or LGBT issues. I’ve lived my life by treating others with respect and it’s been returned 10 fold.”
Joe DiPasquale, the CEO of multistrategy blockchain and crypto fund BitBull Capital and one of the founders of StartOut — a nonprofit that empowers LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs in tech — echoed McNeal’s view that crypto is supportive of LGBTQ+ rights and emphasized that the technology’s impact on the way people govern themselves has an impact on social issues: “The crypto sector is more than supportive of LGBTQ+ rights — crypto is pioneering new forms of governance that can bring about advances in society more quickly,” adding:
“From projects like Tezos which has developed more efficient ways to vote on-chain through delegates, to thought leaders who believe the blockchain and virtual nations can empower people and correct exploitation, many projects in the sector mirror the support that we see more generally from most forward-thinking technologists. While crypto is apolitical, Bitcoin itself bypasses the need for government control over money and central banks.”
Claire Lovell, the associate director of product management at Gemini, also outlined her view to Cointelegraph that crypto supports LGBTQ+ rights and that the philosophy behind cryptocurrency has the potential to shift power away from centralized institutions and norms that had previously been impervious to change:
“I do think the crypto sector is supportive of LGBTQ+ rights. The crypto ethos is to remove those existing power structures that would seek to limit the rights or privileges of people. Personally speaking, of the five years I’ve been working in this space, I have not once experienced any homophobia from other members of the community.”
While several experts have reported the crypto sector to be supportive of its LGBTQ+ members, some are skeptical about crypto’s purported ability to help minority groups in particular. McNeal explained to Cointelegraph that what crypto does best is create a level playing field rather than appeal to particular demographics: “I do not believe digital assets or Blockchain Technology does anything unique for the community than it does for any other demographic,” adding: “It has no respect for the person, it was and is created for all.”
For BitBull’s DiPasquale, blockchain not only has the potential to change the way that people manage their finances but also to bring about political change. “There are already projects applying the blockchain to voting and creating communities through it,” DiPasquale explained, adding that this presents an opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community:
“So, blockchain is already involved in enabling more people to vote. When we enable greater access and improve the diversity of those at the polling booth, we’ll empower the LGBTQ+ community as well.”
According to a survey conducted by WNYC Studios, LGBTQ+ people have a worse financial outlook than their cisgender and heterosexual peers. More than half feel anxious about their finances, with up to 42% reporting that their financial prospects have caused them to feel depressed. A further 25% of LGBTQ+ respondents say that their sexual orientation has caused them to suffer financially.
For Gemini’s Lovell, continued attempts to increase inclusivity could help LGBTQ+ people improve their personal finances: “Targeted outreach to the community with more education around the benefits of crypto and why it’s an inclusive asset class could help open up the space to more people in the LGBTQ+ community.”
Lovell also told Cointelegraph that using cryptocurrencies and blockchain-based financial products can help sidestep some of the barriers that affect the LGBTQ+ community, as well as that using nontraditional banking methods such as decentralized finance can actually be more financially rewarding than banks found on Main Street:
“Participating in cryptocurrencies and blockchain projects allows one to opt out of the financial power structure of big banks to create your own economic network. This helps increase access to financial tools. For example, one can use DeFI tools to earn much higher interest on their capital than they can receive from banks, and anyone can participate. Compounding returns is an important part of creating wealth.”
While the crypto sector may well be supportive of LGBTQ+ rights, there is still a lack of visible representation among company leadership. And while this is due in part to a lack of diversity, for many, being LGBTQ+ is something completely private and is kept as part of their personal lives. While BitBull’s DiPasquale told Cointelegraph that many crypto companies have LGBTQ+ staff already, McNeal said that representation should be increased based on merit:
“I am not a fan of hiring for hiring sake, if a person can show up and compete — they should lead. That said, we can’t truly know if the representation is up or down since many may not be public about their sexual orientation.”
Gemini’s Lovell told Cointelegraph that it is perhaps not overly surprising that minority groups are not overwhelmingly represented in niche industries such as crypto but added that she felt LGBTQ+ engagement would grow in tandem with wider adoption:
“LGBTQ+ minorities are a small percentage — just 10% — of the population, and crypto is also a small community of workers. Right now there aren’t that many LGBTQ+ people in the crypto community. That being said, as digital currencies continue to grow and new opportunities arise, I have no doubt we will be represented at every level. I’m proud to say that at Gemini there are several senior employees who identify as LGBTQ+, including me!”
While it’s clear that efforts are being made to make both the tech and crypto sectors more inclusive and openly supportive of LGBTQ+ people, some argue that there is still a long way to go. For Open Privacy’s Lewis, more conservative views of sexuality and gender boundaries still prevail. Lewis told Cointelegraph that those hoping to challenge these preconceptions still face an uphill struggle:
“Can people shed the chains the cisheteronormative concepts of sexuality and gender and begin to decentralize the power that they hold? Perhaps, but that is a slow process and one that is not for the weak or those that lack the will to power.”
Be sure to check out the live discussion titled “LGBTQ+ and Blockchain: Community-Powered Tech and Tech-Powered Community” on Cointelegraph’s YouTube channel.