The responsible development of XR technology requires a diverse community of voices to help build it. To celebrate the limitless number of perspectives in the XR industry, the XR Association sat down with Carlos Gutierrez, Deputy Director & General Counsel for LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute (LGBT Tech).
Below is an excerpt of the interview with Gutierrez, which has been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
1. Can you tell us about yourself and what you do for LGBT Tech?
I currently serve as the head of policy and General Counsel for the LGBT Technology Partnership and Institute. There are a number of issues specific to technology that are very unique to our community; we have specific needs concerning privacy, data protection, bullying and harassment. So we set up the LGBT Tech Partnership as a way of talking to industry groups, government entities and the general public, to raise awareness of these LGBTQ+ tech issues.
2. What’s your XR story?
My XR story is actually a COVID-19 story. When the pandemic first started, my partner had to travel to Florida and care for his mother for about two and a half months, and I was here on my own in DC. I had never been a gamer – my last gaming system was the Atari back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but my partner suggested that I get a PlayStation to keep me entertained while here alone. I decided to get a PlayStation VR with a VR headset and play some games. From there, I ended up getting an Oculus Quest.
I had expected a gaming system, but what I found was a community. Through my headset I went to VR Venues to watch concerts and other interactive events with a virtual audience; I was blown away by the sense of community that I immediately felt through VR and it made the time in isolation easier to cope with.
It was at this point that I recognized the possibilities of XR technologies for marginalized communities, especially for isolated teens who may not have access to others like them. As it evolves, XR has the potential to impact marginalized communities and the LGBTQ+ community in ways we have not even imagined yet.
3. How did you come to be at LGBT Tech?
LGBT Tech was started by my partner and our friend Chris Wood.
I’m a lawyer by trade, my background is in tech and telecom, specifically. I spent two and a half years at the beginning of my career at a telecom law firm working on very niche telecom issues at the Federal Communications Commission and directly with a number of State Public Utility Commissions at the local government level. After that, I transitioned to Discovery Communications, where my job was much more programming related.
LGBT Tech’s founders thought I could bring a very unique perspective to this conversation from a technical and policy angle that they didn’t have the same background in. I was at a crossroads in my career at the time, so I took a chance and leaped into the nonprofit world for the first time. In this new role I ended up focusing again on a lot of issues regarding the digital divide and marginalized communities that I had addressed earlier in my career.
4. How do you and LGBT Tech aim to affect real change?
I think we have a very unique niche in this field. We’re working on some issues that not a lot of other people are talking about. For me, that means figuring out and thinking about, ‘how can this be used in a way to help marginalized communities?’ Or, ‘what are the unintended consequences of some of these decisions that could actually harm LGBTQ+ individuals?’ Being able to address these issues and raise concerns and opportunities with companies and legislators that may have an impact on someone’s life is a key driver for our work. We have a bit of a role, and responsibility, in helping set “the agenda” for the conversations that are happening.
I know what it’s like to be in a position of not having a lot and not having a voice. I’m an immigrant, I immigrated from Colombia when I was 10 years old. And I was a Latino, gay, young man kind of thrown into this country trying to figure out how to fend for himself and for my family as well. It is really important for me to help other people have that voice, or provide a voice for others that may not have one.
My personal and professional backgrounds are tough to separate because my personal beliefs are what drive the way I see tech and the challenges that I see in tech.
5. How is the current political landscape affecting the LGBTQ+ community, and how are immersive technologies bringing the community together?
LGBTQ+ teens and LGBTQ+ vulnerable communities are under attack in ways that they haven’t been in a long time. I think technology is one of the ways that we can help communities and people come together. One of the beautiful things about XR and one of the things that I really loved about XR is its immersiveness — the personal connections that you can make while using the technology.
At LGBT Tech we have a number of projects underway to capitalize on this. We’ve created a LGBT Tech World within Horizon Worlds in the Meta space, and we’re using that platform to build safe spaces for people to gather and make those connections. We have also partnered with VR peer to peer counseling platform Innerworlds to provide LGBTQ+ meet ups within this space for LGBTQ+ specific interactions and peer-to-peer counseling and we are experimenting with Augmented Reality filters to understand how we can use them for our community.
We’ve found through our research and outside conversations that most LGBTQ+ people go online first when they start exploring their identity. If you’re an LGBTQ+ youth coming out, your home may be the most hostile place you can be. Through these technologies, we’re hoping to reach people and have an impact that is much more immersive.
6. What career advice do you have for someone who is just starting off?
One of the things that people don’t appreciate enough is the value of mentorships. I think there’s a misconception that people who are at a higher level may not have the time or desire to talk to someone just starting out. But from personal experience, and from talking to my peers, most people who have made it to some higher level at a company are more than happy to share their experience.
If I had to do it over again what I wish I’d done more of is reach out to those people that I admire, that are doing what I want to do, and introduce myself. I think people would be surprised at how many people are open to that and how receptive people can be.
7. At XRA we like to say the XR industry has a limitless future. What does that mean to you?
When I think about limitless, I always add an asterisk to that concept, because it’s like, limitless for who? Limitless for everybody? If we’re trying to create a realistic world that reflects our society, we have to include marginalized communities, and we have to make sure that those communities have a voice in the creation of this world. Data privacy, location tracking within a virtual world — all of these are real concerns for many in the LGBTQ+ community. But these are not things that people will always intuitively know unless they’ve been in that situation.
The conversations that I have and the reason that I do this work is to make sure that we do have a limitless future that includes people who are not normally considered part of tech. So when I say asterisk, I want to make sure that limitless is not only about the potential of technology, but limitless in the potential to change how marginalized communities interact with technology.
8. What does the XR industry need? Are there things to be applauded for here? Things that have worked?
There’s no question that tech has been more welcoming for LGBTQ+ individuals in many ways. However, there is a big caveat with that. Many people are still closeted at work, have experienced harassment or felt they’ve been passed over for career opportunities because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. We’re definitely doing a lot of work in this area, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Marginalized communities and people in diverse communities have an incredible ability to sniff out authenticity and inauthenticity. And you can’t just talk about what you’re doing for diverse communities, or put a rainbow flag over your logo in June. If you’re going to have a commitment, it needs to be real. It can’t be just with marketing; it has to be in hiring practices, in the way you design products, and in the way that your board and the top of your company look.
It takes a full commitment to listen to the issues and react accordingly.