In June, The Sandbox virtual platform will be the venue for the metaverse’s first indigenous LGBTQ pride parade. The event is the brainchild of People of Crypto (POC) Lab, a new agency and innovation hub focused on creating diversity in web3 spaces.
Users of all shapes, sizes and identities already spend their lives on metaverse platforms — but the companies that build these platforms and the virtual experiences they contain aren’t that diverse, according to People of Crypto co-founder Simone Berry.
Berry and her co-founder Akbar Hamid — a black woman and a gay Muslim, respectively — first met about five years ago at an NFT event, where they were one of the few non-white attendees. “I walked around and said, ‘I don’t see anyone,'” Berry said. “He was there with a customer and I thought, ‘I need to talk to you; I just need to see someone. We met at a Starbucks and over a cheese board we bonded and decided to bring some change.
POC Lab is a collaborative effort between Berry and Hamid, and the first project is to build the “Center of Belonging”, a hub of diversity and inclusivity in The Sandbox that will serve as the launching point for the first Metaverse Pride event.
The event, which kicks off in June, aims to both draw crypto-curious members of the LGBTQ community to the metaverse and make The Sandbox a welcoming place for users of all identities. The centerpiece of the Pride space is a huge rainbow-striped statue in the shape of a raised fist, which Hamid says will eventually be transformed into a cross-platform NFT. POC Lab also produces interoperable NFT avatars with different perspectives, including hijab and wheelchair avatars. The company also hopes to partner with LGBTQ advocacy organizations such as GLAAD and 15 Percent Pledge for the event. “Of course there’s the recurring component,” Hamid said. “We will also enroll charities in all of our smart contracts.”
If companies like POC Lab and The Sandbox want the diversity of their virtual spaces to match the demographics of the physical world, events like Metaverse Pride are a must. At the moment there is quite a bit of skepticism about the metaverse among marginalized communities, especially within the LGBTQ community, whose members feel unprotected in Web2 spaces like social media. The skepticism is justified: Berry and Hamid have both managed to come up with a long list of Web3 projects ranging from misleading to downright racist.
“There were Meta-slaves; there was something about Georges Floyd; there have been projects where you can see the rarity scale for dark skinned people doesn’t sell that high,” Berry said. “There are comments that the reason things don’t sell is that there aren’t many black people in the space, which isn’t true We are many, only we are scattered.
Despite these fears, Web3 experts from marginalized groups believe the decentralized web could elevate their communities through blockchain technologies. “These are the communities that are not entitled to the current banking systems,” Hamid said. “So if you look at who is adopting it quickly, it’s those communities, because they don’t need permission.”
“We had a financial system that was built by men, for men – a small group of rich white men – and that system continues to serve that group. And we are at a very interesting turning point where there is permissionless, trustworthy technology that has the potential to create a whole new financial system,” said Lisa Wang, founder of Bad Bitch Empire, an investment collective for Women in Web3. “Just because the opportunity is there doesn’t mean it’s going to be fair and democratized and transparent and all that stuff on its own. Because right now the same people are coming in, the same people are taking advantage of this new system.
Wang, a former Hall of Fame gymnast and founder and entrepreneur of competitive technology, started Bad Bitch Empire after being disappointed by the lack of women on the boards of top web2 companies like Uber and Amazon. As Web3 moves from a speculative view to an industry per se, groups like his own and POC Lab are taking more and more steps to ensure diverse users have a say in the metaverse from the outset.
While the primary goal of the Metaverse Pride event is to uplift individual users, virtual events focused on social justice are also creating new opportunities for brands to engage with these communities in ways that can be more authentic and natural than their previous efforts at Web2 social networks. media.
“The past two years have been the great awakening; before that we had a lot of front business,” said Hamid. “In Web3, I think it’s really going to happen at a fundamental level — and the response so far has been amazing.”