At first, Jingo Mante hesitated.
She had just started a new job and had never run an advocacy nonprofit before. Mante wasn’t sure she could really devote the hours needed to effectively run Out in Tech Boston — a nonprofit that aims to connect the some 1,000 LGBTQ+ tech professionals it counts as members.
But Boston’s volunteer lead was stepping down, and Mante had been involved with the nonprofit’s national chapter for years. As she thought about the friends she had made through the organization — and the political, cultural and social context the nonprofit operated in — Mante realized that, for her, the time spent was non-negotiable.
“Look at our political environment. Look at our cultural environment. Being part of a marginalized community was never a good thing, but it’s especially not a good thing these days,” said Mante, who works as a product manager at HubSpot, an inbound marketing software firm.
Mante added: “The tech community in Boston is small, and maybe the number of places where queer folks can go is in decline or plateauing. [Out In Tech] is just needed. Period.”
Website development as a volunteer effort
About a year and a half ago, Mante stepped up to lead Out In Tech Boston, one of 10 chapters across the U.S., including New York, Chicago and Austin. In Boston, Mante serves as the lead volunteer, where she organizes panel discussions, networking events and, occasionally, the “Digital Corps” initiative, where volunteer software engineers, designers and copywriters build websites for LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations at home and abroad.
Last week, Out In Tech members in Austin and Chicago built 10 free Wordpress.com sites for organizations like the Transgender Welfare Equity and Empowerment Trust (TWEET) Foundation in India — a charity that advocates for transgender rights, and some of whose founders live openly with HIV.
Out In Tech provides free hosting to the sites for five years, and a custom user guide so individual groups can maintain their sites themselves. The group has built more than 100 websites over the years.
Websites are key to fundraising and community
Gary Goldman, program director for the national Out In Tech nonprofit, said he developed the Digital Corps program in 2016, inspired by his time working and traveling as a consultant for the United Nations. His travels often took him to places with stringent anti-homosexuality laws.
During a trip to Uganda, Goldman met with Pepe Julian Onziema, an LGBTQ+ rights activist who identifies as a transgender man and who organized gay pride celebrations in the conservative African country. Goldman asked Onziema how he could support him. Onziema replied that he needed a better website.
“It made me realize the importance of the web platform as a fundraising mechanism and as a way for folks to feel less lonely in environments where they’re rejected,” Goldman said.
Onziema’s ask inspired Goldman to pitch Digital Corps to Out In Tech. Goldman credits the initiative for now helping grow the group’s national membership to more than 25,000 people.
It is still legal in about 30 states in the United States to discriminate against workers for their sexual orientation or gender identity."
When Digital Corps first launched, Out In Tech volunteers focused solely on building websites for organizations based in countries where homosexuality is illegal — in some cases even punishable by death — or where LGBTQ+ people face persecution.
But in 2017, when President Donald Trump announced that June would be Great Outdoors Month and National Homeownership Month — ignoring the month’s traditional focus on queer pride — Goldman decided to move Digital Corps’ work to the U.S.
Out In Tech volunteers built websites for 10 U.S. organizations focused on LGBTQ+ rights that year, including the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, a group that helps transgender and gender-nonconforming people change their names and genders marker on official documents, like driver’s licenses.
“It is still legal in about 30 states in the United States to discriminate against workers for their sexual orientation or gender identity, so it is still not fully safe to be out at work,” Goldman said, adding that federal lawmakers are still debating whether an employer can fire an individual for being LGBTQ+.
“That’s why it’s vital to have spaces where you can be with your community, learn about employers that are LGBTQ-friendly, learn about your rights and then also be comfortable,” Goldman said. “A lot of energy is spent for marginalized communities thinking about how they should present, how people are going to receive them, not feeling safe.”
Fellowships, scholarships, mentoring and more
Goldman said local Out In Tech chapters, like the one in Boston, provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ tech professionals to be themselves and connect with jobs.
The group offers a fellowship program to help tech companies hire interns who identify as LGBTQ+. Last summer, Goldman said IBM hired three Out In Tech fellows. The nonprofit also operates a national scholarship program that awards 10 people the chance to study at the Flatiron School, a coding academy with 10 locations across the U.S.
Goldman said that, almost every time Out In Tech hosts a panel discussion at a company, members from the firm’s human resources team are there to network with attendees. The Datadog analytics platform recently hosted a panel about how queer voices are represented in artificial intelligence and machine learning technology. Cargurus, an automotive listing site, hosted a Pride event where LGBTQ+ panelists talked about coming out at work. Google representatives recently talked about how technology has — and hasn’t — supported LGBTQ+ professionals’ mental health. The Boston chapter has had at least one event every month so far this year. By having company HR reps on hand, Goldman said Out In Tech aims increase queer representation in the industry — tech, he said, is still dominated by cisgender, white, straight men.
When you look at the leadership positions, you rarely see queer people at the very top.”
“One of my biggest pet peeves is just the lack of data that we have around LGBTQ people,” Goldman said. “We do know that women are underrepresented and that people of color are underrepresented. When you look at the leadership positions, you rarely see queer people at the very top.”
To address this, the nonprofit offers a remote mentorship program nationwide.
This year, Out In Tech also started Qorporate, a resource for companies to learn how to start employee resource groups for LGBTQ+ individuals. Thirty companies have so far signed on to Qorporate for information on how to cater company culture and HR initiatives, learning how to include surrogacy coverage, adoption fees, or other benefits that can be important to queer employees.
Going forward, Mante said she wants to keep growing Out In Tech’s Boston base.
“I want it to become a bigger gay army,” Mante said. “I want to see it grow. I want to see more attendance. I want to see a variety of topics and diverse people coming because the bigger we get, I think the more power we have.”