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40 Under 40: Gregory Varnum's LGBT Encyclopedia Picks Up Where Wikipedia Ends

By Diane Anderson-...

Gregory Varnum, 31

By day, Gregory Varnum is the director of external relations for Equality Michigan, a statewide LGBT rights organization. In the past, he's served in dozens of different capacities in the movement, including executive director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, board member for the Harvey Milk Foundation, and public policy adviser for the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. But that is to be expected from a guy who founded his own company — Varnum Enterprises, a Web design and network consulting firm — at age 12.

That would be laudable enough, but Varnum found another corner of the LGBT rights universe where he could have an impact. WikiQueer, which Varnum founded two years ago, came about when he realized Wikipedia's entries dedicated to LGBT history were just not cutting it.

WikiQueer started because he said he kept noticing “the need for a truly comprehensive wiki by and for the LGBT communities, free of any community politics.” Between big partnerships with groups like GLAAD and the recruitment of hundreds of authors and editors from around the globe, WikiQueer stands to have a global impact like few other sources of information. Unlike wikis with a mainstream audience, WikiQueer can go broad and deep on a ton of topics ranging from asexuality to Zoroastrianism, all while logging the history of LGBT people, a task full of controversy and politics in itself. While there are some projects that overlap with Wikipedia's nonprofit organization, Wikimedia — like the LGBT Free Media Collaborative — or other projects that operate independently, like Queergle (a gay Google, if you will), WikiQueer stands alone.

Just don’t expect the humble activist to take much credit for any of it — as with any a wiki, Varnum says the work that goes into WikiQueer involves a democratic community effort. Earlier this summer, Varnum began working on installing features that will make it easier for anyone unfamiliar with wiki code to create articles, and he’s looking for some developers to work with on continuing to find better ways to aggregate data from places like Wikipedia and the Movement Advancement Project's Equality Maps.

But even with all of this coding and research, Varnum enjoys his side projects.

"As geeky as it sounds, working on the wikis relaxes me," he says. "It is nice to be able to check off some quick tasks on such visible platforms that anyone else on the Internet can help contribute to as well."

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