by ZOË SCHLANGER
Originally published: August 3, 2016
On a sweltering July Monday at Google's New York headquarters, in a conference room four floors above Chelsea Market, a dozen queer teenagers were introducing themselves to one another. "Danny, he/him pronouns," said a seventeen-year-old from Queens with the long hair and fingerless gloves. He'd been writing video game storylines since he was eight; this was his second time at Maven, a week-long free summer camp held in San Francisco, Boulder, Austin, and New York for LGBTQ teenagers and young adults interested in tech. As an icebreaker, the teens had been told to name a genderless green fuzzball with eyes — and to give it a backstory. The fuzzball had to have a weakness, and Danny decided that it was compulsive reblogging. The team named it "dat boi" after a viral image of a cartoon frog riding a unicycle; it was their homage to a "dank meme." The rest of the room fluttered in approval.
These are kids of the internet: They grew up on YouTube and Wi-Fi-connected multiplayer games and most of them have Tumblrs and think Facebook is for old people. In other words, your average crew of teens in 2016. But in the offices of the tech elite where the campers would spend the next week learning how to build a video game, they were not exactly the typical constituency. Both Silicons — Valley and Alley — are notorious for hiring a miniscule number of people of color or from low-income backgrounds, let alone gender-nonconforming and queer people; each young person selected for Maven is a member of at least one of those communities. Most are all three.