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A Safe Place for Queers in a Metaverse Full of Mysteries

A Safe Place for Queers in a Metaverse Full of Mysteries

Qtopia logo with Zeke Thomas

With Qtopia considered by many to be the "next big thing” and social meeting ground, Joshua “Zeke” Thomas, son of NBA legend Isiah, explains its part in a world for the next generation.

I’ve been lucky to be able to work with some enterprising professionals who are creating new worlds in the metaverse. When I teach my college digital courses, I tell my students that Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok won’t be trendy forever, and that something will come along and make them yesterday’s news. And most people are betting on the metaverse.

Until that happens, there are lots of unknowns, most especially, if it indeed will be the next big thing? Rania Ajami, a metaverse expert and pioneer and cofounder of Metropolis World, thinks it will be. “It’s probably a safe bet to say that,” she pointed out. “Primarily for the purposes of giving more meaning to our online interactions.”

“Social media is in a weird spot right now because so many people are fed up with it but don’t necessarily want to fully give it up,” Ajami continued. “The internet is amazing at connecting people all over the world, but the depth of those connections in the current social media landscape is often shallow. If the metaverse is 'the next thing,' we hope it’s because the metaverse is solving a problem with the current social media setup.”

Many of us have dropped Twitter. Instagram has been shown to cause depression in teenagers, and TikTok will now come with time limitations parents can enable. So, if you’re looking for something else, you might consider venturing into the meta world. It’s a wildly stunning experience, with the potential of being highly addictive, like current social channels. The worlds that are created are magical and can allow the user to take on the characteristics of anyone they want.

Like all new digital tricks and toys, the impetus of a new technology can be untamed – anything goes, not much oversight and limitless possibilities that go along with limitless hazards.

In an article in January on Sprout Social, content specialist Jamia Kenan wrote, “The metaverse isn’t a utopia. Major industry players have been under fire for metaverse crimes and safety concerns. If the metaverse is the new frontier of the internet, it currently resembles the Wild West. There isn’t much regulation at the moment, which has led to inconsistent expectations and user experiences, especially surrounding security and privacy best practices."

Last year, we ran a column by Terry Miller, the founder of the It Gets Better Foundation with his husband, Dan Savage, in which Miller lamented about the safety of queers in this fairy tale digital land. “The Metaverse is not going to be a home for the LGBTQ+ community, sex workers, sex educators, medical doctors working in sexual health fields, or a lot of other communities," he wrote. "It is increasingly apparent as we see who is being targeted by Meta's algorithmic censors that [Facebook head Mark] Zuckerberg's Metaverse is one big cis-straight mostly male white nationalist party. And that may be its prerogative. But we as a community must reckon with what our response will be.”

Enter Joshua “Zeke” Thomas, who has responded in one way. Thomas, the vibrant and creative son of Hall of Fame basketball legend Isiah, has joined Qtopia, the first metaverse created by and for the LGBTQ+ community. I had the chance to speak with Thomas, not in a meta world but through Zoom, where he explained why he became involved with the metaverse and Qtopia.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Clubhouse [an audio social channel], and going from room to room and the more I learned about the metaverse, the more fascinating I thought it was,” Thomas explained. “That’s where I heard about Qtopia, and that’s when I decided that I had to become involved. I’m all about creating safe spaces.”

And Thomas knows what it’s like not to be in a safe space. When he was 12, he was sexually assaulted. And in February of 2016, Thomas, then 27, was raped in his apartment by a man he met on Grindr. “Men getting raped by other men — no one ever talks about it,” he recalled. “And for a long time, I didn’t feel safe. Does anyone, really? But one thing I did was decide to speak out and do my best to not let what happened to me happen to anyone else.”

He became the first male ambassador for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. It was a brave step for Thomas. “I always think, through my music especially, that there’s more I can do to help queer people be safe."

And that explains his involvement with Qtopia. Thomas and I shared our experiences with the metaverse. As he’s become more involved, and more active with Qtopia, he’s spent a considerable amount of time visiting different venues. “I even went into a porn hub, and I’m not really sure how I feel about that,” he joked.

“The metaverse is another reality. As you know, you can be whoever you want in the metaverse. For example, I can be more of my flamboyant self. And you can be yourself wherever you want. There’s so much to explore, but also you have to be careful, particularly if you're queer.”

“As queer people, we need safe spaces. And Qtopia is a safe place,” Thomas added.

The Qtopiavirtual world comprises four Islands: Qtopia City, Sapphire Island, Isla De Fuego, and Celebration Island. Within these four Islands, Qtopiahas 44 districts with names significant to the LGBTQ+ community, and users can buy real estate.

“All the real estate in Qtopia is a unique NFT, which provides a way of having your own space in the metaverse,” Thomas started to explain. “And owners can do anything they want with their property. They can also host parties and play games on their property.”

While Thomas had a bad experience on Grindr, he has nothing against the app, but I wondered if the metaverse is the next generation of venues for men to meet men. “I guess that might be true,” he said. “Back in the day, guys hooked up at bars, and then on the internet and now on apps, so something has to be next, and this really is a world where you can truly be yourself, provided it’s in a safe environment.”

“There are many places in the metaverse that aren’t safe, primarily because they are not regulated. In Qtopia, you can be whoever you want, get together with friends, make new friends, and exist in a totally queer world.”

John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

(Qtopia logo design courtesy of Qtopia, left, and photo of Zeke Thomas by Noa Grayevsky.)

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