Embracing LGBTQ Visibility at Center on Halsted

 |   Soren Spicknall, MSFT Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

Throughout the month of September, school life resumes in Chicago. From Riverdale to Rogers Park, students of all ages come together for a new year of learning. For some young learners, though, the social pressures involved in school environments can make the prospect of learning fraught with anxiety. From elementary school all the way through college (and into the professional world, as well), the things that make somebody different can alienate them and cause them to lose their excitement for learning new things.

When I was in high school, I discovered that I was pansexual. Considered by some to be a form of bisexuality and by others to be a distinct category of human sexuality, pansexuality implies an attraction to all people, regardless of their gender identity. Though I had a close group of friends to rely on when I came to this realization, the process of coming out publicly was just as challenging as one might expect it to be at that age. To make matters worse, less than a year I after came out, my family suddenly moved to the state of Alabama, and I began attending a school where the number of out-of-the-closet students paled in comparison to my previous school and where administrative support for LGBT+ students was lukewarm at best. During my two years in Alabama I never came out publicly, having seen fellow students lose most of their friends overnight when they revealed their sexuality.

During the initial coming out process, and during the time I spent back in the closet once again, there were only a few places where I could feel free to be my full self, where my queer identity would be simply seen as a passive part of me rather than an active focus of conversation or contention. LGBT+ advocacy organizations that created such places were essential to my ability to process my own identity, feel comfortable in my own skin, and express myself safely. It is because of this that I was extremely excited by the opportunity to help one such organization here in Chicago, Center on Halsted, through my work on the Microsoft Cities Team.

Center on Halsted is Chicago’s most substantial LGBT+ community center, developing programs that bring LGBT+ individuals from across the city together to access essential services, social events, and educational programs. Center on Halsted operates a “Cyber Center” within its offices in Boystown, providing everything from computer literacy training to collaborative design classes. Our team here at Microsoft Chicago has provided input on Cyber Center programs regarding how to best align the “cyber” aspect to the workforce development and youth empowerment efforts of the Center, offering our expertise wherever we had it. Recently, we decided together to do something a little more substantial than our previous small-scale conversations.

At a convening organized by our office here at Microsoft Chicago, members of our Cities Team and our GLEAM employee resource group sat down with Center on Halsted leadership. Together, we aim to help plan the future of their Cyber Center programs and help those programs become more focused on topics that would bring LGBT+ youth and adults across Chicago into the building to interact, learn, and create in a shared space. As the organization seeks to transform their digital programming, they sought our help connecting to relevant topics and resources in the tech world that map directly to marketable job skills.

YouTube Video

With our help, Center on Halsted also paid a visit to Chi Hack Night to discuss their ongoing process of transformation, and their mission to provide a safe, welcoming space for LGBT+ individuals across Chicago to come share in their tech passions through their Cyber Center.

There are plenty of big ideas in the air for Center on Halsted’s tech programs, but to execute those ideas effectively the organization needs volunteers. So, in the spirit of this year’s Bi Visibility Day, let’s work together to provide the kind of space where people can be themselves while also exploring their love of technology.