Thomas Rosen describes the sensation of entering a welcoming place as a pressure that gets lifted from your shoulders. It’s the ability to be yourself without reservation or moderation.
“It’s knowing that I have people that are like me,” Rosen said from Potsdam, Germany. “I can share a story with them, share a drink with them. It’s knowing that I don’t need to fight anymore.”
That combination of feelings is akin to finding something more than community, Rosen said. “It’s like finding a home,” the 24-year-old added. “And it’s why I built QueerMap.”
Rosen began QueerMap just over a year ago, while looking for centers for LGTBQ+ youth in Bonn, Germany, where Rosen grew up. There was an online dictionary with some information, but it was outdated in both its content and user navigation.
Fortunately, Rosen studies computer science at the university in Bonn and had some ideas about how to fix it.
“For me, writing software—coding—has always been the tool that helps me achieve what I want to do. And that is not developing software per se, but to build things that can be there for people, to help everyone be more conscious of each other and more compassionate—that’s the idea.”
For starters, Rosen needed accurate and current information, and in the spirit of open-source projects, wanted to let anyone add a place to the map. The next step was to take the map global. Other kinds of maps highlighted LGBTQ+ friendly places, but Rosen (who uses gender-neutral pronouns) wanted one that appealed to their younger peers.
“I knew if I was facing this problem, a lot of other people were too,” Rosen said.
Now it was time to bring the map into the present—if not the future. Rosen knew that no one was going to use QueerMap, or contribute to it, if it wasn’t simultaneously beautiful, informative, accurate, and easy to use.
For that last part, Rosen partnered with Amazon Web Services customer Mapbox. Rosen applied for and received support from the Mapbox Community team to help build QueerMap.
Rosen could go on and on about the technical approach they took to the problem. How they pulled in data and expertise from the OpenStreetMap community in the Philippines (another open-mapping project). How they looked at design considerations for icons and navigation. How they developed a review process for nominating new LGBTQ+ friendly places, ensuring both the accuracy of a location but also the safety for those who might visit. But what they mostly focused on was the result.
“For me, writing software—coding—has always been the tool that helps me achieve what I want to do,” Rosen said. “And that is not developing software per se, but to build things that can be there for people, to help everyone be more conscious of each other and more compassionate—that’s the idea.”
QueerMap along with other community work Mapbox helps bring to the world, is a perfect example. A map, constructed with the tools and ideas of modern software, accessible anywhere in the world, can become much more than something that gets you from point A to point B.
“Maps are so much more than the navigation app on your phone,” said Marena Brinkhurst, Mapbox’s community team program manager. “When equipped with the tools to build their own unique maps, creators like Thomas can use maps as a new way to reach people, to help people, and facilitate community building.”
QueerMap hits all those notes, Brinkhurst said, and adds something more.
“Maps like QueerMap can be a call to action—in this case, to add new locations and information, to learn about the global LGTBQ+ community, and to help keep people safe,” Brinkhurst said. “This sort of crowdsourced, community-built map is very powerful because it's about representation. It's about reclaiming maps to say, ‘We are here, these are our spaces.’”
Or as Rosen puts it: “We are home.”
If you want the technical deep-dive with QueerMap, this is the spot.
If you want to build maps for positive impact, check this out.