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How You Can Support LGBTQ Youth as a Mobile App Developer

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October 19th is Spirit Day, a day for supporting LGBTQ youth and speaking out against the bullying and harassment they too often face. Here at Envato Tuts+, we're proud to stand against bullying and discrimination of any kind, so we're going purple to show we stand with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer youth.

In this post, we'll take a quick look at some of the ways we can support LGBTQ youth as app developers.

Avoid Coding Assumptions About Your Users' Identities

It's really important that we as developers avoid coding assumptions about gender and sexual identity into our apps. Anyone in a gender or sexual minority will understand this point immediately, but for others it can be easy to let gender assumptions creep into our code without even realizing it.

Gender Mutability

In my role as editor of mobile content for Envato Tuts+, I see assumptions like this crop up occasionally when reviewing code snippets and examples. For instance, in the Swift language, you might model a person as follows.

Pretty straightforward, but there's one problem: the gender property of Person is immutable and set in the class initializer. But real people can change the gender they are identified with! 

This is a somewhat artificial example, and of course there could be provisions in other parts of the codebase or system for users to change their gender, but it demonstrates how gender assumptions can cause problems. Imagine if the assumption that gender is unchangeable were coded into a university enrollment or driver's license database. It would lead to a system that was unable to accurately model the people it represents!

Remember, in real life, gender is a var (mutable).

Modeling Gender

Similarly, how should we model the Gender type? In the past, a lot of devs and database designers have represented gender as an enum. Again, in Swift, we might have:

I'm sure you see the problem: a binary choice between "male" and "female" doesn't encompass the range of gender identities held by app users today. If you make your users choose between one of these alternatives, you will be sure to alienate a lot of them. 

The online dating app OkCupid had this problem in its early years, causing many potential users to be excluded—to be unable or feel uncomfortable to use the service. In 2014 though, OkCupid (along with social media giant Facebook) overhauled their gender and sexual orientation model.

OkCupid gender selection

OkCupid's is an example of a well-thought-out system for modeling gender and sexual orientation, and it's worth referencing if you need to provide for gender in your app. 

In Swift, then, we might implement a very inclusive Gender type as follows:

This would let users select from a broad range of established gender identities, choose multiple simultaneous identities, and even supply their own if the supplied options were not enough.

Non-Traditional Families

For a final example, suppose that we had the following properties in the Person class:

This assumes that a person has one mother and one father. For many people, raised in non-traditional families, that is simply not the case. For instance, I have a friend who was raised in a house with five mothers. How lucky for her! 

A better way to model parent relations might be:

Inclusive Apps

As mobile apps and software in general become more and more central to people's lives, we have a responsibility as developers to make sure that our apps are as inclusive as possible. If we make assumptions about gender or sexual identity, we exclude some potential users of our apps or limit their opportunity to use the service our apps provide. 

The same goes for other assumptions about users. Check out this great list of Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names.

Tell Stories and Explore LGBTQ Themes in Your Game

If you are a mobile game developer, you have a great opportunity to support the LGBTQ community by including diverse characters in your game, and by allowing users to use their preferred gender identity and sexual orientation in the game.

For an overview of ways that LGBTQ issues can be and have been addressed in games, check out Michael James Williams' Spirit Day 2015 post.

Write an App to Support LGBTQ Youth

Whatever issue you are passionate about, you have a real opportunity to make a difference by developing a custom app to support that cause. Even if you're just learning to code apps or only setting out in your career, this can be a great way to get started. Let's face it, your app has a much better chance of getting noticed if it is connected to a social issue that people care about. 

Here is a list of some apps that have been created to help LGBTQ youth and other victims of bullying. Be inspired!

Verena

The title of this app means "protector", and it is intended to help its users find protection in times of crisis: directing them to police stations, hospitals, shelters and other places of refuge, as well as notifying a designated list of contacts in case of emergency.

Verena app

Verena was created by 15-year-old Amanda Southworth to support her friends in the LGBTQ community. One clever feature is that the app has an incognito mode, disguised to look like a homework helper. That way, youth who might not be able to be open about their sexual identity are safe to have and use the app on their phone.

You're Accepted

Coming out is an extremely difficult and even dangerous time for many LGBTQ youth. Many teens have faced cruel bullying, abuse, or disownment and expulsion from their family home. The creators of the You're Accepted app are trying to make this transition easier by helping users build a network of safety and support before coming out.

You're Accepted is a message platform that allows LGBTI youth to tell their friends their sexuality or gender identity, anonymously. You can see their responses and then decide who to tell. — You're Accepted
Youre Accepted app

The creators of the app believe that no one should live in fear of being themselves and have written this app to help counter online discrimination against LGBTQ youth.

PRIDE Study

This app was created by doctors and scientists at the University of California in San Francisco to investigate connections between being a gender or sexual minority and long-term health outcomes.

The PRIDE Study deeply explores how the experience of being LGBTQ is related to all aspects of health and life. — PRIDE Study

This will help doctors, governments and community groups understand how to support LGBTQ health.

The PRIDE Study is built on Apple's ResearchKit framework, announced at Apple's Spring Forward event in 2015. This technology allows researchers to easily enroll and collect data from participants in large-scale, longitudinal studies—studies that collect health information over time.

Know Bullying

While it's not a problem unique to LGBTQ youth, all too many LGBTQ youth experience some sort of bullying. This experience can be deeply painful and has driven many young people to depression, self-harm, and even suicide. The app is a tool to help parents and teachers check in with children and detect the signs of bullying. Some of the features of the app include:

  • tips about the kinds of bullying experienced in specific age groups
  • warning signs that a child might be bullied or be engaged in bullying
  • conversation starters to help engage with children
Know Bullying conversation starters

Know Bullying was created by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and it's packed with information for parents and educators to help them detect and prevent bullying.

Quist

Quist, short for "quistory" or "queer history", was created to celebrate and educate young people in the history of the struggle for LGBTQ rights. Every day, the app shows users a collection of events from that day in history so that users can see:

How far the LGBTQ community has come over time—how we have been treated, how we have reacted, how our allies have supported us, and how others have worked vehemently to stop the progress. — Quist 

With this youth-friendly app, the Quist team is trying to educate and inform the world about the deep history of LGBTQ communities, and to provide support to individuals by showing how others throughout history have shared their struggle.

Quist app

Circle of 6

Circle of 6 is an easy-to-use tool designed to help teenagers and college students prevent sexual violence and get out of bad situations.

Need help getting home? Need an interruption? Two taps lets your circle know where you are and how they can help. Circle of 6 app for iPhone and Android makes it quick and easy to reach the 6 people you choose. — Circle of 6

The Circle of 6 app was created for the 2011 Apps Against Abuse White House challenge. And won! With more than 150,000 students in 32 countries, the app has received press from around the world. 

The app creators say that they are inspired to make the world a better place with "technology that enhances friendship and trust". 

Conclusion

Bullying of LGBTQ youth is a huge problem, with 85% of LGBTQ youth reporting having been verbally harassed, 48% reporting experiencing cyberbullying, and 13% reporting having been physically assaulted—all because of their gender identity. 

Spirit Day gives us a chance to support the LGBTQ community and show that we are against bullying. You can help out by wearing purple today and talking to your friends or young people in your life. As a mobile app developer, though, you have a special opportunity to help—by ensuring your apps are inclusive and perhaps even by creating an app to help youth at risk of bullying!

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