Aug. 14, 2015

Courtney Wilburn Recaps Experience at White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summit

Courtney Wilburn

This post was written by O3 World Developer Courtney Wilburn, who was named a White House LGBTQ Tech & Innovation Fellow.

In early July, I was selected for the White House LGBTQ Tech & Innovation Fellowship. This prestigious group – made up of innovative, talented, and influential technologists, designers, product specialists, and community leaders – was assembled to help solve some of America’s toughest challenges.

Earlier this week, I headed down to Washington, DC for the White House LGBTQ Tech & Innovation Summit. The night before the summit, I joined some of the other fellows for a party, hosted by Lesbians Who Tech, on the roof of the Embassy Row Hotel. The weather cooperated and the club soda (which I drink by the gallon) was free!

The White House LGBTQ Tech & Innovation Summit was hosted by Leanne Pittsford, who founded Lesbians Who Tech (of which I’m the Philly chapter co-chair; come hang with us!). Each LWT San Francisco chapter meeting begins with high fives, so we were asked to turn to our neighbors and exchange high fives, which was a nice way to break the ice. Before we got into smaller introductions, we heard from Angelica Ross, who uses technology and tech resources to empower the trans community. She was awesome and a selfless promoter of her cause.

Next, we introduced ourselves to the larger group in ask/offer format. Each of us gave our name and where we were from, asked a question or favor of the group, then offered something that we could help someone with. The introductions ranged from somber and serious to uplifting to flat-out hilarious. I asked folks to teach a black woman how to code, then offered to mentor people with Linux and back-end programming. People actually hit me up for programming tips and advice throughout the day, which was cool and really spoke to the level of sincerity people had about the event. Other fellows’ experience ranged from those who deal with issues of diversity in hiring to those with no professional involvement with LGBTQ issues, those who work in tech and are themselves members of the LGBTQ community (like me) to people who provide direct services at the intersection of LGBTQ and tech. There was a diversity of perspectives, but no shortage of talent.

Speakers at the summit included Megan Smith (United States Chief Technology Officer in the Office of Science and Technology Policy), Aliya Rahman (formerly of Code for Progress), Clarence Wardell (Presidential Innovation Fellow), Christine Samala (18 Million Rising and VoterVOX), Hillary Hartley (18F), and Nicole Thomas (Cleveland Hacks). After these men and women spoke about projects they were working on or affiliated with, we broke into smaller groups to brainstorm and discuss how some of these things related to questions we’d had. We wrote our ideas on sticky notes that were posted along the walls of the auditorium.

After our working lunch (which consisted of lots of networking while eating delicious hummus, pita, and salad) came the “real” reason we were there. We broke into groups to lay the groundwork for actual projects related to:

  1. Inclusion and citizenship
  2. Climate and miscellaneous
  3. Community building and police data
  4. Housing

For two hours, we brainstormed on problems and worked down to two tangible projects that we could take on over the course of the next few months. I’ll be primarily working on ways to use police and law enforcement data to help people understand their rights regarding personal data and in the event of an arrest, hold police accountable for mistakes, and for people to use open police data to “hack” interactions with law enforcement on both the individual and community levels.

After a continuation of the morning’s ask/offer session, each project manager presented the projects that came out of the breakout sessions. They asked a few of us (myself included) to talk about the police data project. We heard some awesome ideas. One person even had a working demo (shout out to rapid development with the MEAN stack)!

We wrapped up the day with a few closing remarks, then I headed back to Philadelphia. Overall, wow – I had a great time. Thanks to everyone who nominated me. This was really a life-changing experience. It was great to connect with so many like-minded people and work toward something that can potentially positively impact so many people. I can’t wait to see how the project develops and (hopefully) carry on with this work long after the project ends.

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