Commissioner Ajit Pai told the inaugural forum of the newly formed LGBT Technology Partnership Thursday (Sept. 12) that promoting broadband would benefit the LGBT community "by making it easier to connect, easier to learn, and easier to engage in self-expression."
Pai said that gay teens spend more time online than straight teens, and are more likely to search the Internet for health information.
"We have to ensure that the Internet, with all its power and promise, continues to thrive for all people, including those in the LGBT community," he said. "Domestically, that means we need to incentivize the deployment of next-generation networks by modernizing regulations. And internationally that means continuing the fight to keep the Internet free from government control."
Pai used the speech to press for regulatory reform, IP transition pilot programs and online speech crackdowns abroad, including gay-unfriendly Russia. "I'm only half-joking when I say that I wonder whether Ivi—-Russia's counterpart to Netflix—-will soon be removing Brokeback Mountain from its Internet streaming service," he said, "or whether Russian children will be denied access to Teletubbies videos online."
But it was also a personal speech. Pai, who is Indian-American, talked about often being the only minority in his classrooms growing up in Parsons, Kan. He said he never felt discriminated against. "But I did sense at an early age what it was like to feel different—to walk into a room aware that I was the only person like me."
Pai said that he did not recall there being any openly gay people in Parsons, though he later learned of some friends there who were. He read an e-mail he got from one of his classmates. "I can tell you [that] it would have been a world-changer to have had Internet access...To know I wasn't as alone as I thought I was until I actually left [home] and finally discovered I wasn't so alone after all. . . . I spent the early years of my young adulthood hiding and trying to convince myself it wasn't such a bad thing to be gay. If I had access to others like me, I might have been an entirely different person today."
And this from another friend: "It likely would have changed the course of my life to have had access [through the Internet] to gay culture when I was a kid. Mass media offered scraps—usually comic stereotypes or something brutally scary, but that was one-way communication."
Pai said the LGBT Technology Partnership, which formed to spotlight the impact of new technology on the LGBT community, could play a vital role in highlighting the importance of high-speed accesss. "We know that online technologies empower the vulnerable and promote," he said. "These goals are worth fighting for. These aspirations should unite us whatever our partisan affiliation, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation."
The goal of the partnership is to "bring together LGBT organizational leaders, government policy makers and experts to conduct an open dialog about the importance of including LGBT communities in public policies that will shape the future of communications, security and technology advancements for years to come."
The partnership was co-founded by former Discovery Communications rural and LGBT marketing specialist Christopher Wood and Joe Kapp, formerly with KPMG Washington's National Tax Practice.
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