Is the Metaverse the Next Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Folks?
Dr. David Johns offers insight on how the Metaverse could be the new queer frontier.
LGBTQ+ people are no stranger to finding community online. Since the internet’s inception, we’ve used it as a tool to chat, laugh, meet, and so much more.
For many of us, it was our only respite from a homophobic, unaccepting world. We asked message boards for advice on coming out, or we pieced together who we were one reblog at a time on Tumblr, or screamed about our favorite pop stars on Twitter, or simply just googled “Am I gay?”
We created our own safe spaces to build each other up, away from prying eyes. And while we’ve come a long way since the ’90s, the communities we’ve built and continue to build online are precious.
But the internet is evolving, and so are these spaces. Perhaps virtual reality is the next frontier?
From the minds of the folks at Meta comes “Dream House”, a space built within the app Horizon Worlds for and by LGBTQ+ folks that was “inspired by the heart of Ballroom culture” with the intention to “provide a refuge of belonging, safety, and inclusivity” for Black and Brown LGBTQ+ communities “beyond urban geographic boundaries.”
As a part of the Metaverse Culture Series, Meta arranged a meeting of the minds in one space, though its inhabitants were scattered across the country. Each member tossed on an Oculus VR Quest 2 headset and created lookalike avatars to travel across distance and time zones to kiki together, in one virtual room. Following an introductory conversation with Legendary judges Law Roach and Leiomy alongside activist Dr. David Johns, model Tess Holliday, and WNBA star Renee Montgomery, PRIDE sat down with Johns, an Educator, researcher, and Civil Rights activist focused on equity and social justice at the intersection of Black LGBTQ+ rights, for a vulnerable chat about a few of the problems facing the LGBTQ+ community today as well as the possibilities and potential of what the Metaverse can do.
“The metaverse is still being built out, this is just a portion of it,” Johns begins, before contemplating the state of the world (We actually had this chat the morning Roe v. Wade was overturned). “I’m hoping that I’m able to get to a space where I can actually step back and dream about what’s possible in this environment.
“Three thoughts have come to mind given my experiences heretofore and one is that it’s a space where people can build and establish community. My first time in the metaverse, not in the room we’re sitting in now but the runway that we used to access this space, I met Leiomy and Law Roach and so many icons in our community who are doing amazing things and simply because of this environment, we felt like we had known each other for years and like cracking jokes and dancing and having a good time in the way in which we might if we had met at prospect park in Brooklyn at a Juneteenth event. Creating a space um that allows folks to gather and grieve and experience joy, especially given the considerations of the novel coronavirus and white supremacy on top of it, is something that I’m excited about and feels like it’s a liberatory possibility.
“The second is a space to be strategic,” Johns continues. “This morning I engaged in a group text conversation with other Black queer leaders of national organizations. One of my colleagues said, ‘I wish that we were in physical proximity so that we could be together and lay eyes on each other and strategize.’ It would be a bomb for all of the feelings that we’re feeling in this moment… There are possibilities for folks to strategize and come up with ways to improve life experienced then lived outcomes in VR and in real life.
“Then the third is thinking about ways to gather the babies. One thing that I’m really proud of is that early on in the pandemic, our youth and young adult advisory council partnered with Cartoon Network to share messages to LGBTQ+ youth who we understood were now going to be forced to be in environments that otherwise might not have been forced to be in. Homes with families who are not affirming our supportive school, right, just these conditions that are beyond problematic. So thinking about creating a space like this where young people can gather and do so safely without having to be outed… Each of us honestly have something that society tells us we should feel shame or stigma around and if we can gather in spaces like this and talk about it, then we can move through the shame and find ways to build.”Watch the empowering full conversation below: