Guest blog post by Zach Lilly, Telecommunications Policy Analyst, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)
Both my grandfather and father worked in cable. I used to joke with my dad that I fully intended to break that chain. I had, I thought, absolutely zero interest in the technical, often complicated world of telecommunications. As I got older, I began to realize what a difficult goal I had set for myself. I challenge anyone to find a career path, business, or government entity that isn’t deeply invested in better understanding tech and telecom.
Needless to say, I failed in my goal, though that has been to my benefit. I went from public relations for a cable news network to working on tech and telecom policy for my hometown member of Congress. Now I am happily situated at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. So far, I am three for three in telecommunications jobs.
Growing up as a gay kid, one of the first ways I was able to better understand myself was by going on the Internet. I was able to look up queer history that I had never been taught in school, see political debates affecting the LGBTQ+ community that I was too nervous to engage in myself, and look for examples of out and proud LGBTQ+ folks who were living their lives to the fullest. It was the only safe method of engagement I had, until I was eventually ready to come out myself. The Internet is an indescribably powerful tool, one that has immense ramifications for those connected or disconnected. While it is of course the future of commerce, and a great place to put pictures of your dog, for a young kid still trying to find hope and direction, it can be a lifeline.
I am proud to work at NTIA because folks from a broad spectrum (that’s a Pride AND telecom pun) of backgrounds work tirelessly to make sure the Internet is an open, secure, and free source of commerce and expression. Our country continues to face a digital divide where members of racial minority populations do not have access to a reliable Internet connection. We know that there is still much work to do to ensure that secure participation in the Internet ecosystem is a reality for all Americans, regardless of their skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic background.
Pride has never been about a single community looking after its own interests. It has always been an expression and celebration of many different communities that work together in solidarity. As long as I work at NTIA, and anywhere else I go after, my work will be motivated by the LGBTQ+ elders who dedicated their life’s work so that I can live and work as my authentic self. Let all our continued work be in part dedicated to our fellow citizens, of every background, who are born deserving to be treated as equals.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees during LGBT Pride Month.