Tara Robertson tackles LGBT inclusion in the tech industry
In the lead-up to the Vancouver Pride parade (which takes place on August 5), we’ve compiled profiles of LGBT community members that, together, offer just a brief view of how multiple identities overlap, interplay, and interact to make up each individual’s totality. To see more of our Pride 2018 coverage, click here.
Growing up in Prince George, life wasn’t always easy for Tara Robertson. A queer-identifying woman with a Japanese-Canadian mother and Scottish-Irish father, she found herself often treated differently than the other kids in the predominantly white city. Days on the playground could be tough, filled with whispers and stares from the other children and comments from the adults.
Even as a child, though, she was able to draw the positives from the situation.
“It was interesting being mixed-race,” she tells the Straight on the line from her office in Vancouver. “A lot of the racism I experienced there was because people thought I was First Nations. That kind of highlights the illogical nature of hatred: they were pegging me as the wrong race but still treating me rather badly. But I think growing up not part of the dominant group in terms of race and gender and sexuality, the gift and the silver lining of that is that you see a lot of things in a different way. You see power differently, and the complexity of how people interact, and you also get the opportunity to think about who you are. And I really value that.”
Robertson has since dedicated her personal and professional life to advocating for diversity and inclusion. Spending her days working as a librarian, she managed an organization for 20 colleges and universities to suppot students for whom print materials can be a barrier to access. In her free time, she volunteered for the Queer History Project in Vancouver—an initiative that aimed to collect and catalogue stories from LGBT individuals in the city—and offered her services to the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Association, an organization that promotes visibility in sports such as swimming, diving, and water polo.
Most recently, Robertson has begun to tackle the issue of representation in one of the most notorious straight, white, and male industries: technology. Joining a tight-knit team of three, she works to improve diversity and inclusion at Mozilla, the software community behind free-for-use products including the widely downloaded Firefox Internet browser.
“We have about 1,000 people worldwide,” she says. “What really excited me was that the leadership here truly believes that diversity is important. They see a connection between inclusion and the open-source products we build, and our fight to keep the Internet open for everyone. I do a lot of data work, because it’s important to measure change in the areas we care about, and I help with policy and programs to help shift the needle on representation and to make the culture more inclusive. I want this to become a place where people can bring their difference, and have that difference be valued.”
One of the initiatives Robertson is most proud of is improving access for trans people. Believing that the letter T is often forgotten in the LGBT acronym, she created a program to help people who have decided to transition their gender to live and work authentically Mozilla, including writing a checklist to let someone know where they would need to update all of their usernames and official documents, and who to talk to during the process.
“I know what it’s like to feel that things weren’t designed to include me,” she says of her motivation to help others in the community. “It’s a really crappy feeling. If I’m able to change how people are doing things so [marginalized] folks can get in the building, can get to the meeting rooms, can have their voices heard—that’s the stuff I’m really excited about.”More