Queer Hacks 101: A Day to Build Solutions

Earlier this year, I was invited by my alma matter to be a speaker and mentor at a hackathon designed for the queer community, which was hosted by the University of Waterloo Queer++ student group. I immediately said yes, and on March 7, I found my way back visiting my old stomping grounds on a brisk, Saturday morning in Waterloo, Ontario.

Whenever I go to campus, I always get off at the William Davis Computer Research Centre (DC). Right away, you may notice the DC’s large and colourful entranceway. The bold mixed materials and the circuitry of its lines always make me think that I am stepping inside of a giant microchip. The DC is also part of a network of buildings physically joined by many underground tunnels and overpasses. Our campus’ pathways are a lot like a labyrinth. It is easy to get lost, but thankfully my undergraduate muscle memory helped me navigate through the bridges and channels to the Mathematics and Computer (MC) building where I got ready for the Queer++ Hackathon.

Being reminded of these two ideas, interconnectedness and technology, was a great way to welcome the day. The hackathon’s purpose was to bring students together to design and build solutions to empower the LGBTQ+ community. Contrasting the beehive environment that hackathons usually facilitate, Queer++ facilitated a more intimate give-and-take session. The participants spent a large portion of time sharing their individual lived experiences, expressing their concerns, and listening to others. Everyone’s genuine curiosity and the desire to empathize and learn from one another was such an energizing and rewarding time. And despite the heaviness of these serious issues, I was glad that this roundtable of diverse voices was actually spent in comfortable, oversized couches in MC’s hallmark lounge!

… there was constructive discourse on proposing practical and safe solutions for the LGBTQ+ community. Queer issues are nuanced. Queer issues are layered. Queer issues are complex.

From there, there was constructive discourse on proposing practical and safe solutions for the LGBTQ+ community. Queer issues are nuanced. Queer issues are layered. Queer issues are complex. I loved how a fellow panelist, Katrina Schouten, documented these ideas from this brainstorming session. The resulting collective idea was to work on a user-generated resource website that lists companies and whether or not there was an LGBTQ+ employee-driven support group.

Hackathon Notes by Katrina Schouten

As we felt worried about “rainbow capitalism”, I thought this idea was innovative because it solved a gap of knowing which companies have genuine support queer networks and initiatives. It was also practical because university students are seeking co-op work terms and jobs after graduation, and so they could use this resource as a flag for progressive companies to potentially apply to.

I am always especially proud to support the intersection of the queer community and STEM community. I did not have a support group like Queer++ during my university time, but I am so proud that new ones have been formed since then. And my takeaway for the day? Many meaningful conversations and insight, and a renewed sense of optimism that the next generation has the tools and the willpower to be agents of change.

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