How Intersectional LGBTQ+ Leaders Envision a Safe Space in the Metaverse

A virtual runway built out of 3D abstract sculptures dipped in sunset hues leads into a vast, meditative space. This is “Dream House” — inspired by the heart of Ballroom culture, and built with LGBTQ+ creators in Horizon Worlds. Created within Black and Brown LGBTQ+ communities to provide a refuge of belonging, safety and inclusivity for members, the movement’s influence has expanded beyond urban geographic boundaries. Ballroom’s unique vogueing and performance experiences have had a deep impact on pop culture, inspiring beauty and fashion trends for decades.

As part of our Metaverse Culture Series, we brought together LGBTQ+ leaders in VR to explore “Dream House” and candidly discuss how the community can feel safe and empowered in immersive environments.

The conversation was moderated by journalist, content creator and communications strategist at Meta, Danielle Young, and included:

  • Law Roach (@luxurylaw): Top Hollywood stylist, Image Architect and judge on Emmy-nominated HBO Max Original Ballroom Competition Series Legendary
  • Leiomy (@wond3rwoman1): Ballroom icon, model and judge on Emmy-nominated HBO Max Original Ballroom Competition Series Legendary
  • Dr. David Johns (@drdavidjohns): Educator, researcher and Civil Rights activist focused on equity and social justice at the intersection of Black LGBTQ+ rights
  • Tess Holliday (@tessholliday): Model, author, advocate and Founder of #EffYourBeautyStandards
  • Renee Montgomery (@reneemontgomery): Co-Owner and VP of the Atlanta Dream and 2x WNBA Champion

Visualizing Ballroom Culture Through Dream House

Ballroom culture has historically proved life-saving for many Black and Brown LGBTQ+ people in search of safe spaces to express themselves and freely connect. This subculture emphasizes belonging and inclusivity, expressed through performance, competition and houses. Within LGBTQ+ Ballroom culture, a “house” is more than the place you live. It’s a chosen family, a safe space for its members to feel free to explore and be exactly who they are.

We worked with a grassroots team of LGBTQ+ Creators to design and engineer a “Dream House” in Horizon Worlds inspired by the heart of Ballroom. Upon entry, you can participate in a “Grand March”, where movement is celebrated on the runway. Once you walk the runway, you descend into an ambient space with mind-bending architecture. The depth-defying structure is equal parts intimate and vast with minimalistic design, intended to be a creative blank slate to inspire all who enter to dream and connect. 

Dream House is now open to the public in Horizon Worlds, which can be accessed through your Quest 2 headset.

Exploring Identity and Community Safely in the Metaverse

With the metaverse not fully formed yet, now is the time to give historically marginalized communities access to build the future of technology. The metaverse must be inclusive from the start so that all people feel safe and empowered in their identity.

While “sitting” on plush purple couches in Dream House, the group kicked off the conversation discussing whether Pride feels representative of all backgrounds. Law shared his experience as a Black gay man and opened discussion about the range of discrepancies and privileges among the intersectional identities present in the virtual room. The group agreed that immersive technology like VR provides a new opportunity to create a truly representational space that can help even the playing field. 

The group also explored what safety in VR should look like for the LGBTQ+ community. Tess expressed that she felt safer in the Dream House compared to other in-person panel formats, allowing her to feel close to the other panelists in the intimacy and tranquility of the virtual environment, while maintaining physical distance. Leiomy spoke on her experience as a trans woman of color, noting it’s not always easy for trans women to be seen as a human first, so she imagines the metaverse will offer a unique space for people to actually get to know one another, beyond their physical form. 

Dr. Johns cited that in the last five years, “every year has been the deadliest year on record for trans women”. These statistics make it critically important for trans women, particularly Black, Afro and Latinx trans women who experience this violence at a disproportionately high rate, to have a safe space within the metaverse. He also emphasized the need to look not only at harmful speech but also nonverbal interactions in creating a space where community members feel safe.

In order to give people more control over their experiences in Horizon Worlds, people can access our Safe Zone feature at any time which lets them mute, block and submit reports. We also recently introduced a Personal Boundary to help avoid unwanted interactions and announced Voice Mode which will let people control which conversations they hear.

Uplifting Intersectional LGBTQ+ Communities Through Equity

For all communities to feel included in the future of the metaverse, everyone must feel like they can benefit from its existence. Law and Renee spoke on normalizing success in communities where success feels so rare. With better access to information and economic opportunity in immersive tech, we can work towards closing a range of equity gaps that impact so many. And by normalizing success for historically marginalized communities, they can feel inspired to achieve their dreams. 

Dr. Johns emphasized the need to give intersectional youth tools to monetize their passions so they can gain equity and move forward in life. With the ability to use immersive technologies wherever wifi is accessible, there are greater opportunities to find economic empowerment without leaving your community if you don’t want to. 

Watch the full conversation on Facebook.

Stay tuned for more Metaverse Culture Series experiences rolling out during cultural moments throughout the year. These will showcase how we’re building towards a more inclusive and equitable future of technology, and supporting the diverse creators pioneering in this space.

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