Daniel Aldridge has been the Senior Policy Manager, at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, for over three years. Previously he worked at organisations such as Stonewall and the Office for Students. Here, for Pride, he considers what it is to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in tech in 2022.
“I never used to have a great answer to the question 'How did you get into tech policy?' But more recently, as I've reflected on it, maybe its not so complicated.
From a young age, like many other LGBTQ+ people of my generation, I understood that government, the media and society could and would tell me who and what I should be. It was also pretty effective at sanctioning us if we didn't comply.
The impact of government policy looms large for those of us at the sharp end. So working to mitigate the potential for harm and abuse of power, and in 2022 that means tech, doesn’t seem so unexpected really. For me it’s about the 2022 theme for pride: Remember, Resist, Rise Up.
Although we didn't understand it fully at the time, our schooling was blighted by Section 28; a clause in the Local Government Act (1986) prohibiting schools from "intentionally promoting homosexuality" or "teaching the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship"; yes they are direct quotes from the legislation...
Even with no successful prosecutions, Section 28 cast a toxic shadow over the lives of millions of children, their families and teachers. Our worldview was shaped by government-induced shame, the effects of which continue to be felt by millions.
Section 28 smothered my entire schooling, from nursery through to A-levels. Enacted in 1988 and repealed in 2003, it was only repealed the year I went to University. I'll spare you the details of my Catholic, comprehensive education in Stoke-on-Trent and its impacts, but it was as grim as you can imagine. However, I am fortunate to have access to therapy and (no hyperbole) life-saving friends and family who showed me love and gave me faith in humanity.
Where are we now?
In 2015 we were riding high from recent legislative gains, the UK was ranked as the best country in Europe for LGBT+ rights – now, we sit in 14th place in the ILGA-Europe list. This fall, the largest of any nation, is largely to do with our woeful inaction on rights for trans, intersex and non-binary people and the pervasive demonising of these communities across social media.
Trans communities are estimated to be less than 1% of the population and research, including the UK Government’s National LGBT survey (2019) consistently show trans people as one of the demographics least likely to have access to agency and power in our society, yet the nature and volume of the media hype around them gives a very different impression.
The law can be scary, as can law makers and the media, just this week, the Attorney General of the UK used the front page of the Daily Mail to call on schools “not pander to trans pupils”. As a community, many of us fear Section 28 mark 2, turbo charged by the reach tech and data would afford it.
For those of us who grew up under the cloud of state-sanctioned morality, there's an anxiety that with every bill introduced to Parliament, there's an opportunity to direct the unprecedented power of tech and data against us. It's why so many people are understandably invested in the current government's legislative plans around tech, data and digital.
We know acutely how a small amendment to a seemingly innocuous 'act' can have brutal consequences.
Time for change
However, the nineteen years since Section 28's repeal have coincided with a new world of inclusive education working hard to undo its damage. Tech, the internet, and data science have given us an interconnected world with access to information unlike anything experienced before in human history.
For those of us who grew up feeling that we didn't belong, the internet and social media are lifelines and facilitators of opportunity for many. Across the media, we increasingly see people like us, happy, healthy, prosperous LGBTQ+ people. If you can see it, you can be it right?
For LGBTQ+ people across the world who grew up thinking their only future was alone, shunned, and in the case of my generation, dying from diseases made endemic through ignorance and misinformation - tech and the internet have given us dignity and community in a world so often designed to take it from us.
Be part of something bigger, join the Chartered Institute for IT.
For the LGBTQ+ IT and Digital professionals out there, I hope this is a positive and constructive message of how we can and are shaping a more positive and progressive world through tech.
For non-LGBTQ+ people, I hope this gives some background to why some of us are how we are and why inclusion and diversity are never 'job done' but more' continuous improvement'.
Our difference is our strength, but we will only live our potential if we remember our past, resist exclusion, and fear, and rise up to meet our challenges both in the UK and globally.
BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT is the professional body for information technology, and is committed to championing diversity and inclusion. Joining a community like BCS Pride will ensure your voice and views influence the wider technology profession if you work in tech.”