This year we have looked at various groups who are being left behind in the digital economy – women, people with disabilities, disenfranchised youth, religious groups and racial/ethnic minorities. However, there is another group of people that probably creates the most division in many societies around the world – the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. In many countries around the world LGBT people are stigmatized, harassed, physically harmed and sometimes killed because of their sexual orientation.
So how does sexuality play a role in the economy? Many would say that unlike the other groups mentioned above, gay people are not “obviously” gay and can hide their sexual orientation at work. Nonetheless, we have worked with many LGBT people and even heterosexual people “suspected” of gay activity over the years who are routinely discriminated at their jobs, including job termination. When LGBT people, or any marginalized group, can’t work, they not only become financial vulnerable, but it also hurts a society’s economy when otherwise able-bodied people are not allowed to work without impunity.
However, there are many LGBT workers who are defying discrimination and building their own job paths, like “John,” a gay tech entrepreneur from East Africa. (We are concealing his identity for his own safety.) He believes he was fired from his job because of his sexual orientation, although he never revealed himself at any time to his colleagues. Shortly there after, “John” moved to the United Kingdom and has since been living in London for the past three years. Global Wire interviewed “John” about his job path and how technology is supporting progress for LGBT communities and their economies worldwide.
Global Wire: So what happened to you?
John: Well, the short story is that I used to work for a telephone company as an IT manager for a short time. I never told anyone about my sexuality. But because the other men in the company thought I was feminine, so they would tease me. Then one day my manager brought me to his office and told me that he was terminating me. I asked him why because I was a good worker. He said I was a “distraction” to others in the office. I pleaded with him that I needed my job, but he didn’t change his mind. I decided to move to the UK because I am estranged from my family and feared for my life.
Global Wire: And then you moved to London?
John: Well, I had already applied for a school visa to go to school in London before termination, so lucky for me that my visa was approved around that time. I am applying for UK citizenship now.
Global Wire: What do you do now in London?
John: I have been here for three years. I go to night school and I work for a software company on a Tier 4 visa. I am working on starting my own tech startup in my spare time.
Global Wire: What are you working on?
John: I am working on a project right now with a human rights NGO that is helping me to build a mobile app for gay Africans. The app is a secure portal where you can get information about gay issues and a safe discussion forum where gay Africans can talk to each other and not feel alone. Gay people are everywhere!
Global Wire: What else can you do with the app?
John: You can get information on what are your legal rights, what to do if you lose your job, what to do if you lose your family and friends because of your sexual identity. You see all of these things have happened to me. But I was lucky to find people to help me. A lot of gay people back home are not so lucky. I want to help those people. The power of technology is helping gays organize for their rights. We can use these tools for empowerment and building careers like I am doing.
Global Wire: Do you have to reveal your identity to use this app?
John: No, all the information and discussion forums provided in the app are anonymous. We would need your true identity if you are thinking about moving into another country. In this case, we would need you to email us so we can help you.
Global Wire: Have you launched the app yet?
John: We did a soft launch a couple of months ago with a small group of gay people in my country. We are still working on ironing out the wrinkles, but we hope to do a full launch next year in my country and, if things go well, launch in other African countries. We have also hired some other LGBT Africans living in London to work on the project. Like I said before, gays are everywhere, including in the tech sector, building projects to help themselves and others.
Global Wire: Why should workers’ rights for LGBT employees be upheld?
John: Shouldn’t homosexual people have the right to make a living and have financial stability? Gay people shouldn’t fear losing their jobs and livelihood because of their orientation. When companies leave gay people out of employment, they are leaving out otherwise able-bodied people, who are qualified for their jobs. I was the IT manager at my job. I was the only person at my job with computer networking and web development skills. When they terminated me, I know they had a hard time replacing me. Technology skills are becoming more important today. If Africa wants to stay competitive, it needs to have all able-bodied people working – men, women, heterosexual, homosexual.
Global Wire: How is your life now?
John: Life is very good for me now. I am working at a good job whilst working on this project. I am in love with my boyfriend, who I have been dating for two years. I hope one day I can return to my country and reconcile with my family. Losing my job was a curse and a blessing. Sometimes things in life happen for a reason. I am a stronger person now and I want to help others be stronger too.