The metaverse has been heralded as a space for creativity, exploration, and play. For many LGBTQ+ folks this sounds like a utopian digital space to explore identity and connect with an inclusive community.
However, critics of the metaverse are quick to point out that digital giants like Facebook have a disturbing track record when it comes to inclusivity and safety in digital spaces. Metaverses may quickly turn from paradise to a problem for the LGBTQ+ community.
The metaverse is still emerging as both a concept and a digital space, but it has positive potential. In the metaverse, users create avatars to represent themselves in the digital world. For users who aren’t yet comfortable presenting their gender expression IRL, the metaverse could be a space for exploration and growth.
The metaverse may even improve the lives of LGBTQ+ folks. Tech like the metaverse can be used to make healthcare more inclusive and accessible. Using the metaverse as a point of care can help LGBTQ+ people get access to the healthcare and medical attention they need — even if there is a lack of safe and affirming care locally.
The metaverse could also provide educational opportunities for LGBTQ+ youth. Online communities already exist to support young LGBTQ+ people, but the metaverse may be a new way to connect experts with people who have questions about their gender identity or sexual orientation. This is particularly useful if young people don’t have access to role models that have first-hand experience with coming out or navigating transgender or nonbinary identities.
In theory, the metaverse could be a paradise for LGBTQ+ people around the globe. However, in reality, digital communities can be hostile spaces that expose them to abuse and online trolls. Concerns about safety on the metaverse are well founded, too, as one user reported being groped by a stranger while the “other people there [. . .] supported this behavior”
Developers clearly need to do more to support LGBTQ+ users in the metaverse. However, a lack of representation during the development of metaverse spaces threatens to undermine inclusivity and user safety. Instead of rainbow washing, greater efforts must be made to further LGBTQ+ inclusivity in tech, the industry’s leadership roles, and amongst businesses that want to utilize the potential of the metaverse.
Employers who want to participate in the metaverse should be also wary of online abuse and bad corporate culture. Fancy tech like the metaverse is not a cure for workplace bullying and discrimination. Instead, businesses should focus on supporting LGBTQ+ employees offline and identify implicit issues like homophobia and transphobia within leadership teams.
Companies promise that the metaverse will be a paradise for all. When navigating the digital realm, users can put forward any identity they choose. However, much still needs to be done to ensure that the metaverse is a properly moderated safe space for the LGBTQ+ community. This should start from the ground up, as only LGBTQ+ tech developers have the experiences and know-how necessary to develop an inclusive and user-friendly digital space.