The value of communities where LGBTQ+ is the default
Gay Gaming Professionals CEO Gordon Bellamy working to push queer representation past the "generation of exceptionalism"
Gordon Bellamy is the only person to have served as the executive director of both the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences as well as the International Game Developers Association, so he's well acquainted with trying to make the industry a better place for creators. But in his current capacity as president and CEO of Gay Gaming Professionals (GGP), Bellamy works to make the the industry a better place for queer creators specifically.
GGP has been supporting LGBTQ+ people in the games industry for over a dozen years, with annual events at major conferences and other initiatives. For example, GGP recently partnered with the Entertainment Software Association Foundation to provide a trio of aspiring developers with $2,000 scholarships to recognize their community service efforts for LGBTQ+ people. (In the YouTube videos embedded throughout this interview, those recipients -- Steven Harmon, Meha Magesh, and Audrey Webb -- explain what the scholarships meant to them.)
Bellamy tells GamesIndustry.biz that honoring Webb, Magesh, and Harmon benefits not just those three students, but aspiring LGBTQ+ developers and their allies everywhere.
"These are young people who are able to say that their good work in their communities is not just tolerated, but is of value," Bellamy says. "Tangible, positive value. And no one will be able to take that away from them. Hopefully it's fuel for them as they go on their endeavors, and it is fuel for other young people to see that and say, 'Oh, they were doing good for someone other than themselves, and that was a positive trait. That's aspirational. I can do my own version of that in ways that matter to me.' That's how we move the world forward right now."
Beyond any inspiration provided for others to do good deeds, Bellamy says the work those scholars, the GGP, and others like them do is important for aspiring developers who are LGBTQ+.
"There are things where the unique queer vantage point is a plus," Bellamy says, mentioning GGP's Facebook group and Discord channel. "We have over 1,900 members where people with LGBTQ+ vantage points are default, whether that be from a design, art, engineering, or community perspective. And I think it's valuable for everyone to engage in communities where you are default as a starting point... When you are default, you have the opportunity to get directly to expression. You don't need to expend the energy to assimilate."
"It's valuable for everyone to engage in communities where you are default as a starting point"
Bellamy says GGP tries to provide access to the industry and opportunities for its members to "be their best selves," regardless of their role in or around games. It's part of the reason they run official events at events like the Game Developers Conference, Electronic Entertainment Expo, PAX West, and Gamescom.
"Those are places where it really is about being the default, where you're able to come and be enough as you are, and then hopefully in your own way move forward in the game craft, whether that's about discovering and meeting teams, getting knowledge, or even just hanging out, knowing that you can live this life, this 60-year life in games."
Bellamy says the industry is still figuring out what a proper career path looks like for any developer, but adds that queer people in the industry face some additional challenges in navigating a career in games. Organizations like GGP can give them helpful forums to share perspectives and advice on tackling those issues, such as suggesting good places to live and work.
"Unfortunately, in many places, including many states in America, you can lose your job for being LGBTQ+," Bellamy notes when asked how welcoming the industry is to LGBTQ+ people. "You can lose your housing, today, for being LGBTQ+. Especially with a career as dynamic as games are now, where often you're going to have to move to different places over the course of your career, everyone faces questions at the highest level of, 'Will they be able to be themselves and support their families in this craft?' And I think those questions extend all the way from the day-to-day of being in the workplace to the experience of queer-inclusive content and how that's being consumed and appreciated and played by people out in the world.
"Many people have faced incredible challenges trying to be of total value as they are, as LGBTQ+ people in the game industry. Some have had a great experience. Many have faced challenges. I think one of the things we have an opportunity to provide is more information and perspective from people who have moved further down the path, who have been in their careers longer, to people who are just beginning and just moving forward with their careers. Because that's not always easy information to discover. Broadly speaking, information about uniquely queer career development is not something very Google-able. It's not easy to self-learn, and it helps to be a part of a community and learn from others' experiences."
"We're just now starting to have our first generation of LGBTQ+ leaders and lead developers that the whole generation of young people coming in can look to and see a reflection of their entire selves"
As for what some of the specific unique challenges are facing queer developers, Bellamy prefaces his response by noting that LGBTQ+ is a broad category, and each group within it may have different challenges. That said, he points to two common concerns.
"I think the number one challenge would be to ensure you're in workplaces where you're able to have provided healthcare for yourself and your family," Bellamy says. "That's number one. I think number two is being able to find professional mentorship that affirms your whole identity as a positive as you move forward and grow into leadership positions."
That's a point of concern for Bellamy, who says he's particularly passionate about the right of queer people to serve in the military.
"It's so important for a number of reasons, one of which is because there's a clear structure for people to grow and develop, whether they be commissioned officers or non-commissioned officers," Bellamy says. "It's historically great. And that there could be queer colonels and generals and sergeants and other things is a social proof of objective achievement and goodness that helps everyone."
The games industry could benefit from such a structure, Bellamy says, adding, "We're just now starting to have our first generation of LGBTQ+ leaders and lead developers that the whole generation of young people coming in can look to and see a reflection of their entire selves."
That's a positive thing, but Bellamy hopes the trend continues past what he calls "a generation of exceptionalism," where these developers are known as the first of their group to attain certain positions, and into a time when queer people will be visible in "a continuous, sustained, ongoing, uplifting way."
To that point, he mentions a booth the ESA Foundation had at E3 this year, where a video screen was dedicated for the entire show to featuring women in games and their roles within the industry.
"For me, and I've been in the industry for 25 years, it was such an affirming and empowering experience to see a glimpse of the depth and breadth of excellence of people who identified as female in our industry," Bellamy says. "In my face. For three days. They had all the ESA [Foundation] scholars there, and if I were a young person who identified as female and I saw this screen, I'd know there are places for me. I can follow down these paths and then make my own."