In an increasingly virtually connected world, many of us turn to the internet for answers and resources, and expect to find what we need. This may not always be the case for the transgender community, which relies on the web to find trans-friendly doctors, housing, jobs, public restrooms, and more.
Web filtering software that is designed to prevent access to pornography often serves as an obstacle to accessing needed information, and filters may be more than a temporary inconvenience for people who rely on public libraries and internet cafes to access the internet. Lauren Voswinkel, a transgender software developer in Pittsburgh, tells WIRED.com, "Because homelessness and poverty are such big issues in the trans community, many don't have access to unfiltered, uncensored internet." The problem is cyclical – hurdles to access can make it even harder for transgender people to escape poverty.
For this reason, Voswinkel is in the midst of building Transgress, a tool that bypasses web filters in order to allow people access to sites only about transgender issues. This project came out of a hackathon called Trans*H4CK, founded by transgender activist, filmmaker, artist, founder of blackademic.com, and 2013 GLAAD Media Award nominee, Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler. Trans*H4CK's mission is to:
radically shift ways trans* people live by creating technology that economically empowers, improves access to social services, promotes gender safety and community sustainability, while bringing visibility to trans* people.
To bypass the filters, Voswinkel's Transgress will scan URLs for keywords to ensure relevance to transgender issues and then display a slightly modified version of the original text, replacing words like "transgender" with symbols so that the fetched pages will not be automatically blocked.
Ultimately, Transgress is just, well, a hack. Voswinkel hopes it will help transgender people in the short term, but she also hopes it starts a conversation about the limits of web filtering its and the unintended consequences. “Net neutrality is going to make this more important as we move to a more and more controlled web,” she says. “I hope that other people will do some of this advocacy work, but if that doesn’t happen I’ll be doing what I can to make those conversations happen.”
Transgress is not up and running yet, but Voswinkel has built the underlying code and is seeking volunteers to help launch the site, complete with its own design and branding.
Read the full article at WIRED.com.