In Case You Missed It: The Subtext of an LGBT Gift by a Silicon Valley Power Couple

If you've been reading Inside Philanthropy lately, you know that a number of tech companies and leaders have stepped forward in the past year to address gender issues in tech with philanthropic initiatives. Awareness on this issue is finally growing, although change is still slow.

Now imagine that you are lesbian or transgender. The lack of representation for these minorities in the tech world is not even tracked for data, but based on the experiences of trans and lesbian people in the field, the need for more work on equity for this group is very real. With a high level of isolation and very few role models, lesbian and transgender folks face added challenges in starting and maintaining careers in the tech industry.

Until recently, we hadn't heard of any funders zeroing in on this particular niche, so were interested to see the news two weeks ago that venture capitalist Marc Andreessen and philanthropist Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, are backing two nonprofits working toward more tech industry inclusion when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity.

While we've written about this couple and their commitment to philanthropy before, we've never seen them back LGBT causes. Indeed, the majority of the individual donors we see in the LGBT rights space are themselves gay. The fact that Marc and Laura are not only straight, but that he's a Republican and a very influential figure in Silicon Valley, lends added weight to their gifts. 

(Another Silicon Valley couple we know of that's taken a stand on LGBT issues is Facebook co-founder Dustin Muskovitz and Cari Tuna, who've backed marriage equality work in the past through their foundation Good Ventures.)

Regarding these donations, Arrilliaga-Andreessen spoke of the need for a world that "embraces people as they come into it, exactly how they are in their truest self, and not only embraces them but also fosters their self-actualization and their ability to access the opportunities of education, participation in the economy and creating economic self sufficiency."

That all sounds nice, but the subtext here is what really matters: If two pillars of the Silicon Valley establishment take the challenges facing LGBT folks in tech seriously, others should be concerned, too.

One of the organizations receiving funding, Lesbians Who Tech, supports and connects gay women in the tech industry through events in the U.S. and abroad. The organization will use its $165,000 gift to launch two pilot programs: Bring a Lesbian to Work Day, which will provide shadowing and mentoring opportunities for gay women considering tech careers, and the Coding Scholarship Fund, which will help with tuition assistance for lesbians who want to attend coding schools.

Lesbians Who Tech started in 2013 by hosting Happy Hours to bring together lesbian women in the tech industry, and found there was a dire need for more community and support in this arena. The organization has been growing like wildfire since then, reporting 20 chapters from Berlin to Vermont and about 10,000 members. 

The other organization receiving funding from the Andreessens is Trans*H4CK, a nonprofit that hosts hackathons to create new tech products for the trans and gender non-conforming communities. Trans*H4CK will use its $85,000 in funds to build an online hackathon space and education center to help develop apps and other tech tools for the transgender community.

The Andreessens’ donations are part of a growing awareness in the tech industry that LGBT rights need more attention. With the Supreme Court's decision to embrace same-sex marriage and Apple CEO Tim Cook coming out as openly gay, these gifts comes at a good time to maximize impact and grow the resources for this population.

Because of the tech industry's visibility and focus on innovation, it has a unique opportunity to move the needle forward on LGBT rights. The Andreessens have given things another boost in that direction.