Digital Queers

If the South Bay was home to changing internal policies, San Francisco became the hub for disseminating those ideas beyond Silicon Valley. Larger conventions and gatherings emerged in the early 1990s, including the first Out and Equal workplace conference in October 1991. From there, collectives like the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force (NLGTF) emerged from this community in 1992.

The need to communicate en-mass grew as the inter-corporate networks grew.

That year, software marketer Tom Reilly and writer and editor Karen Wickre co-founded Digital Queers—a Castro-based activist group that worked to bring gay-oriented nonprofits up-to-speed online through modems, PowerMacs, AOL software discs and email tutorials.

Named as a funny, more modern evolution from High Tech Gays, they worked tech show floors such art the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, talking to friends, colleagues and strangers who would agree to donate equipment, time and money to organizations across the United States.

The idea easily struck a chord with developers, with Tom and Karen at one point collecting $75,000 in software, $75,000 in consulting services and $50,000 in cash, which was later presented at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

As the technology grew, the need to stay up-to-date continued. Three years into business, DQ had 1,000 members and served 30 nonprofits, including the NLGTF and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), which boasted speakers bureau members like Bennet and Kim in the South Bay.

This fortunately happened at the same time personal computers became cheaper and more ubiquitous, so the gay and lesbian employee events grew more active. Recruiters for Microsoft and Apple had started posting jobs throughout the organization.

In the years after the first party in January 1993, word of mouth eventually led to these Digital Queers benefits became a socially hot ticket, bringing thousands of gay, lesbian and allies together in one social network.

“(Looking) at how many people were there could be very empowering,” Karen said, adding that people were often generous with trading email addresses and in-person introductions.

One of these connections was Tom talking to Apple CEO John Sculley about domestic partner benefits, which lagged seven years behind its nondiscrimination policy implementation, in part due to an incrementalist approach from its employees.

Tom told the Los Angeles Times he briefed the issue with the top Apple executive, who later breezily welcomed the idea at a meeting with Apple Lambda in 1993, eliciting tears and a standing ovation from staff.

The need for gay employee groups started to dwindle as newer organizations came on the scene with nondiscrimination policies and domestic partner benefits already in place. And as nonprofits became more digitally self-sufficient, Digital Queers and its email address book effectively dissolved into GLAAD by 1998.

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