When I came out as Trans back in 2010, I had already known about and researched my identity for 4 years.
I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It wasn’t the most accepting place. My identity was the biggest secret I’d ever kept. To cope with the discomfort and lack of belonging, I secretly accessed an LGBTQ+ or Queer community I’d found online. The forum included a host of people exploring their gender, planning solutions to transition problems they wouldn’t solve for years, and finding ways to cope with being closeted.
That support community was 99Chan. A “chan” site.
Let’s be clear, 99Chan’s crossdressing forum was NOT a good LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other identities) resource. But I did learn how to be queer there.
On 99chan I learned how to crossdress and explore my identity, but I didn’t learn how gender and sexuality actually worked. I made friends with other trans people, but I internalized the net’s rampant transphobia. I learned to be proud of my identity, but by embodying bad stereotypes like being a “trap,” “sissy-boy,” or a “tranny” (do NOT use these terms).
Still, this virtual community was my introduction to accepting who I was. It saved my life.
A decade later, the digital resource pool for transgender people who are still closeted, questioning, or under-resourced is entirely different. It’s far more supportive.
After a decade of advocating for the queer community and building safe virtual community spaces for everyone, I’d like to take some 🏳️🌈#PrideMonth🏳️🌈 time to reflect on what I’ve learned about building queer-friendly spaces in community management.
My hope in writing this blog is that you’ll understand through these 3 takeaways what a critical role your online community has in diversity, inclusion and why you must walk the walk – especially when you can’t see your community’s diverse members.
So what are my takeaways after Queer Community Building?
In This Blog
Now, don’t just scan these! What I’ve learned is counter-intuitive and in some cases contradictory. Knowing how to walk the walk here will take some uncomfortable listening. Take some time to settle in and read what I have to say. These tweet-length statements won’t do your community justice.
Let’s break it down.
1. You provide users’ rights to privacy, security & anonymity
This should not be a shocker after a full decade of privacy and security conversations with social media. Still, there’s a difference between the moral high ground and walking the talk in your community infrastructure and culture.
Walking the talk on member’s rights gets especially complex where queer identity comes into play:
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t typically “see” gayness. “Flamboyant” character traits are common in our community because you must actively express most LGBTQ+ identities. Conversely, we have a right to be invisible too, and doing so shouldn’t remove our rights.
Many LGBTQ+ people do all they can to go unnoticed. Before transition or coming out, many people are closeted, but still need a place to feel welcome. Others may not want that identity to define them, so they go ‘stealth:’ they blend in without disclosing their identity.
That means that as community leaders you have to build a community conscious of privacy, security, and anonymity without even seeing the community members you’re impacting. You don’t get to have data on how queer your community is. You just have to assume that’s the case and do what you can to provide for them.
If you don’t and something happens that harms queer people in your community, you are still held responsible. Anyone involved in those incidents could be closeted, stealth or questioning, and you’d never even know you harmed them.
what Are inclusive Queer-Friendly Practices?
- Allow limited actions for lurkers and newcomers without needing an account.
Let newcomers and lurkers in your community browse, read, and react to conversations. without requiring them to create accounts or build points. Let them up/down vote and report harmful things they see without requiring an account.
- You need a clear point of exclusivity for impactful actions.
Related to the first point, You must make sure your spaces are safe by gating impactful actions behind an account. This means commenting, starting threads, or getting participation badges must require that the user has been vetted and agreed to the ToS/Guidelines. Say no to anonymous trolling, but yes to anonymity.
- Build user profiles with anonymity in mind. Minimal requirements.
Users have a right not to tell you things. It sucks for our database engineers, but it’s true. A big part of privacy and anonymity is allowing users full permission over how empty their profiles are. That also means not connecting those profiles to social networks if the user doesn’t want to. A user should have the right to connect with someone on LinkedIn or display their email address on their accord. Provide the option on their profiles, but never require it.
- Allow aliases of user names, avatar images, and preferred names of their own
The biggest problem people have with this is catfishing or using other people’s information to create a new identity for themselves. Truthfully, if you have problems here, there are deeper concerns than “potentially fake accounts.”
Catfishing is a critical behavior beyond identity theft. Identity tourism or identity negotiation is the act of changing how a person represents themselves online to try out an identity. It’s like a costume to see if it’s something you identify with, and then you shed or keep it. Identity tourism is a critical part of forming who we are on- and offline.
- Do NOT ask for information unless you plan to do something with it.
You may say duh, but people fail most often when it comes to “pronouns.”. Normalizing the task of pronouns and displaying them is incredible but taking in that information for newcomers is a frictional barrier they may not be ready for. Still, there’s it on the profile, but don’t actively request it. The same goes for other inclusion points, such as dietary restrictions for virtual events – one of the funnier failures I’ve seen.
A great example of putting inclusive systems first, regardless of data for whether it’s needed, is in the CHAOSS Project D&I event badging program. While it’s not focused on LGBTQ+ identity, but rather access to programming, this badging program provides a set of benchmarks that certify you have done all you can to empower users in your software events space to respect identities. Gaining a CHAOSS D&I badge is a proud moniker that says, “You’ve done your due diligence.”
2. Exclusivity breeds inclusivity. Don’t expand services. Diversify them.
Let’s start this one with a story. When I came out in 2011, I went to my first physical support group in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Over 25 transgender individuals were in attendance regularly, and there were upwards of 40 people in a single community. That sounds great! Until you realize that it took 4 hours to hear each person’s issues and respond empathetically. After that, we were out until 1 AM for social hour.
The group was big because it included EVERY trans identity. Trans women, trans men, genderqueer people, gender-nonconforming people, families of trans children, and more.
We found value in the space, but most stories were simply too hard to empathize with, and it took way too much emotional effort to give each person what they needed.
I learned 1 big thing from This Transgender support group
Expanding the group to fit more trans people that weren’t like me reduced the group’s value for people like me and for people like them. Hearing stories across identities was crucial, but we had a social hour to unwind with each other. During sessions, “exclusivity” mattered more.
When the group divided trans men, trans women, and gender non-conforming individuals into breakout groups, it respected people’s time and increased the number of people hanging out and grabbing beers afterward – connection happened organically, because value was appreciated.
Exclusive places breed more value when well defined. Cross-pollination between exclusive groups created a more inclusive community than larger, more general groups. So, when you find success in your space, don’t expand it to fit people. Doing so will make it less helpful, less relevant, and harder to interact with for the people it’s for.
Instead, focus on building defined and exclusive spaces. Then replicate what you did next to it for a different group, and connect them. Rinse and repeat your model to grow.
The Takeaway: Exclusivity breeds inclusivity. Don’t expand. Diversify.Samantha “Venia” Logan
3. Social Listening Is a requirement of any good community
In the first step, we learned you must build your space for an undefined silent minority you may never actually see. And in the second one, we learned you have to repeat your successes for other audiences.
Have you spotted the problem yet?
My first piece of advice requires that you not collect information. My second requires you to know who to build for next.
We have to know enough about people to learn what they want, but we aren’t allowed to know more about them. We have to respect security, privacy, and anonymity, but we have to decide to build a place for them based on feedback.
The answer here is to change your approach to measuring from what people do to what people tell you.
What unobtrusive Social Listening looks like :
- Make the metrics story about what you need to follow up on, not what they’re doing.
Quantitative metrics are super easy to manage, but you have to put first, the user’s right to control their security, privacy, and anonymity. When you build your Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, and your system’s metrics, build your triggers to tell you that you need to follow up. Don’t build it to tell you everything under the sun.
You don’t need to know how long they spent on a page or where they looked or clicked. You just need to see if they read the blog entirely or if they were there for 5 minutes to know if they are interested. Set your events up accordingly.
- Do Regular Unstructured Member interviews:
Your community team should be responsible for a coffee session interview with 1 member per month or week, depending on the size of the community and they should be responsible for reporting out on that talk. That report should contribute to regular survey questions that confirm insights with the wider audience.
- A kudos / uh oh journal
Require your key stakeholders and team to give you a bullet journal of interactions they found exciting, damning, or notable between community members. Include the quoted interactions or screenshots and regularly tag them with what it was about, whether positive or negative. This is a decades-long anthropological process called “coding.”
To show you how to do this, I’ve filmed a tutorial on my Youtube Channel, and I’ve included a Social Listening database template to copy and use.
- Implement the Net Promoter Score
The Net Promoter Score has been getting some criticism, and even I have been a part of that. Still, there is no denying that this is the lowest hanging fruit your organization has, to getting clear, anonymous, easy, and regular feedback from your members.
Here’s a bit about what the Net Promoter Score metric is and how to implement it.
- And a great addition from Erin Staples at Orbit
Build and Offer spaces to privately surface problems, complaints and a clear process to how they’re handled online.Erin Staples – Senior Community Advocate at Orbit
Looking back at it All
Looking back, I know that there was no time when I was a perfect advocate for my community. In fact, between 2017 and 2021 I went stealth. I REALLY didn’t want to be involved in the queer community at all.
But there is no denying that I am. I’ve built a career learning about this community.
I have #Pride in knowing that I am a post-op trans woman of 10 years, I’m sapio-pansexual, I’m poly, I’m kink, and I’m proud. I am also proud to feel comfortable choosing when to come out. I’m happy that I can speak up in my communities when we’re doing things queer people won’t like, and I love being a fly on the wall when people are doing awesome things.
It’s great knowing I have this flexibility and this right in the modern-day. I certainly didn’t when I came out.
We have made so much progress, and despite all the crap and wickedness (Texas), the world is pretty great too.