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LGBT Techies Take Part in White House Pride Reception

Though outnumbered by politicians and community leaders, Silicon Valley was still well represented at President Obama's annual LGBT pride event.

Ina Fried

Silicon Valley was well represented Wednesday as President Obama hosted an LGBT Pride reception at the White House.

Though perhaps not as numerous as the legions of politicians and community activists, there were plenty of techies in the audience as Obama delivered a passionate call to ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are more fully included in the American dream.

Among those who heard the president were Lesbians Who Tech founder Leanne Pittsford, Xfund general partner Patrick Chung, Twillio software engineer Dom DeGuzman, Hackbright Academy instructor Rachel Walker, Amazon Prime Now general manager Stephenie Landry and T-Mobile’s Alison Billings.

 Some of the many techies at this year’s White House LGBT Pride Reception pose with U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith (in middle of back row).
Some of the many techies at this year’s White House LGBT Pride Reception pose with U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith (in middle of back row).
Alison Billings

Also on hand was Martine Rothblatt, who captivated the audience at this year’s Ted conference with her story of changing genders and careers on her way to being the CEO of a biomedical company whose main products treat the rare disorder that afflicted her daughter.

In his talk, Obama tied the struggles of LGBT people to those of other underrepresented groups.

“Those of us who know freedom and opportunity, thanks to the toil and blood of those who came before us, we have an extra responsibility to extend freedom and opportunity to other people who are still marginalized and still facing injustice,” Obama said.

The speech included both a recitation of recent achievements as well as an acknowledgement that more work is needed, particularly for the most vulnerable populations, such as transgender women of color.

“As long as there’s a single child in America that’s afraid they won’t be accepted for who they are, we’ve got more work to do,” Obama said in his speech. “But if the people in this room and our friends and allies across the country have proven anything, it’s that even in the toughest of circumstances, against the greatest possible odds, in America, change is possible.”

Obama was introduced by U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith*, who praised the president for helping bring both more technology and greater diversity to the White House.

“That’s why I came here from Silicon Valley,” said Smith, who left an executive post at Google to take the White House post. “Our president is open to ideas.”

The most intense part of Obama’s speech came early on, as a transgender woman heckled the president, calling for him to take action to end detentions of transgender immigrants.

Obama took issue with the location of her protest.

“Listen, you’re in my house,” Obama said, noting that he is fine with some heckling but not from a crowd of invited guests he is entertaining. The woman, Jennicet Gutierrez, continued her protest and was eventually escorted out.

Chung said he was struck by that moment — and another shortly thereafter where a trans woman shouted, “I love you, Obama!”

“The point is, they were both in [the] White House,” Chung said.

Chung also took notice of just how many people were staring at their phones taking videos and pictures of the president rather than at Obama himself.

“It struck me just how much, in the 21st century, our physical lives bow to our digital lives,” Chung said. “In the presence of grace or greatness we no longer see the world through our own eyes, but instead through the 8-megapixel cameras of our iPhone 6. It was kind of like being at a Katy Perry concert.”

Patrick Chung

Here’s NBC News’ footage from that part of the speech:

* Kara Swisher is married to but separated from Megan Smith, chief technology officer for the Obama Administration. See her ethics statement here.

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