Business :: Corporate

Mozilla Sponsors Bay Area LGBT Youth Summit

by Matthew S. Bajko
Thursday Apr 24, 2014
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The Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the tech company behind the Firefox browser, looks to move beyond its CEO controversy and is the lead sponsor for the upcoming Bay Area Youth Summit
The Mozilla Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the tech company behind the Firefox browser, looks to move beyond its CEO controversy and is the lead sponsor for the upcoming Bay Area Youth Summit  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

The lead sponsor for a Bay Area LGBT youth summit taking place in San Francisco’s gay Castro district next weekend will be the Mozilla Foundation, organizers disclosed to the Bay Area Reporter.

The nonprofit arm of the technology company behind the popular Firefox web browser is donating $5,000 to cover the cost of the Bay Area Youth Summit, or BAYS for short. The funds will also help pay the speaking fees to have transgender activist Janet Mock, who reduced her rate, keynote the event.

Initially launched on a biennial schedule in 2011, the gathering is aimed at addressing bullying faced by middle and high school LGBT students and other youth. After the success of the 2013 event, organizers decided to annually host the summits.

In a statement to the B.A.R. Mozilla credited BAYS for its "admirable work to create safe and open spaces for LGBTQ youth to thrive at school and as they build their careers." It added that its sponsorship of the summit "is part of the work that Mozilla has been doing for years to expand understanding of the open web, teaching and empowering under-served communities to become creators of the web, not just consumers."

News of Mozilla’s sponsorship comes just weeks after the company’s former CEO Brendan Eich resigned after 11 days on the job due to intense backlash from employees and other technology leaders over his $1,000 donation in 2008 to a successful ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California. Last week Mozilla named former chief marketing officer Chris Beard as its new interim CEO and a board member as it tries to move beyond the controversy.

The boardroom brouhaha came as BAYS organizers were looking for sponsors of their event. As it turned out, they had met a company official, Lukas Blakk, last fall at a hack-a-thon for LGBT youth.

"We actually were considering reaching out to Mozilla the entire time but we didn’t know who to contact. Then I remembered meeting Lukas from Mozilla. It so happened to be after news broke about the CEO," said Nicholas Spears, 21, a junior at Stanford who is president of the BAYS board. "Yes, considering the recent events, it definitely helped us secure their sponsorship. We are truly indebted to them being so committed to LGBTQ youth and activism as a whole."

Asked about the timing of the BAYS summit sponsorship, Blakk told the B.A.R., "I don’t see it tied into the CEO flap."

A release manager for Firefox Desktop and Mobile, Blakk added, "I don’t want to see it eclipsed by one PR nightmare a few weeks ago that, thankfully, is starting to subside."

Four years ago Blakk, 39, launched a diversity initiative with funding from the Mozilla Foundation after approaching Mitchell Baker , the company’s executive chairwoman. It started with a focus on recruiting women to the technology field but has since broadened its scope to working with various under-represented communities in Silicon Valley.

The diversity initiative was a fiscal sponsor of the first Out in Tech LGBT event held at Facebook and four transgender hack-a-thons held across the country, said Blakk, who quipped she is "not a gay man but everything else" under the LGBT umbrella.

In November Mozilla’s office space on the Embarcadero along San Francisco’s bayside waterfront hosted the LGBT youth hack-a-thon where Blakk and Spears met.

"I wasn’t familiar with the BAYS summit. I am glad he kept in touch and brought it back up," said Blakk, who plans to attend the summit to moderate a workshop promoting open source technology and how it can assist the LGBT community.

This year’s BAYS summit focus, said Spears, is on LGBTQ youth who are transgender, youth of color, or come from religious conservative backgrounds.

"We want to help bring these communities into the fold and help them feel comfortable being LGBTQ," he said.

The summit takes place from noon to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3 at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, 4235 19th Street in San Francisco. Adults are encouraged to attend.

"We want everyone to feel welcome here," said Spears.

There is a suggested donation of $15 but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. A free lunch will be held from 11 a.m. to noon prior to the summit’s official start.

For more information visit http://www.bayareayouthsummit.org/.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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