i-lab Hosts Hackathon for Trans Issues

Getting adequate health care, finding gender-neutral bathrooms, connecting with employers—those are a few of the problems faced by transgender people which six teams aimed to tackle through technology at the Harvard Innovation Lab over the weekend.

The teams of college students and community members from around New England participated in a “hackathon” aimed at generating technological solutions to issues facing the transgender community.

The event was organized by the San Francisco-based project Trans*Hack, in partnership with the numerous Harvard organizations.

Van Bailey, director of the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, said that bringing Trans*Hack to Harvard was “part of a dream.”

According to Bailey, the event was originally conceived almost a year ago, when Bailey connected with Trans*Hack and realized the project was a “perfect fit” with the i-lab, which encourages innovation and entrepreneurship at Harvard.

“Oftentimes, I find myself at the office thinking of problems, but not knowing how to solve them,” Bailey said. “[Trans*Hack] is on the ground, and brings some really transformational people together in one place to handle them.”

Bailey added that in addition to producing tangible products to benefit the trans community, Trans*Hack also serves to provide inspiration and networking opportunities for the participants.

Participant Logan Henderson said the weekend had been affirming for him, as a queer person of color interested in computer science. A sophomore at Dartmouth, Henderson said he sometimes found his academic experiences alienating and discouraging, and he struggled to connect in classes with his peers, the majority of whom are white and male.

“I’m coding for a reason that I’m invested in, for an idea I’m passionate about, with people that I enjoy coding with,” Henderson said, as he described his experience at the event. “Because I have a personal stake [in it], it makes it easier to do—to ask for help, to branch out and be creative.”

Henderson was part of a team which proposed a website that provides a platform for queer campus organizations to record important actions and events. According to the team, the high turnover of leaders in any student group makes continuity in its work difficult, and past events are difficult to find on Twitter and Facebook. The website solves the issue by giving LGBTQ college activists a tool to create “institutional memory.”

Founder of Trans*Hack and queer and trans activist Kortney R. Ziegler called the event “something of a pilot test” for the organization. Ziegler said that while the project has hosted events in cities nationwide, this was the first time it organized one on a college campus. He added that the project’s “hackathon” at the iLab was also the first to have not only a focus on technology, but also on entrepreneurship.

A panel Friday highlighting transgender founders of technological and social enterprises prefaced the hackathon weekend, which concluded Sunday evening with demos from each of the teams.

The event’s Harvard sponsors included the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, the Harvard College Women’s Center, the Office of the Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equity, and a number of queer student groups including the Transgender Task Force, Queer Students and Allies, and Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever.

—Staff writer Quynh-Nhu Le can be reached at quynhnhu.le@thecrimson.com.

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