(Clarifies location of LGBT Foundation in paragraph 4)
By Ana Ionova
LONDON, Feb 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Blockchain can help the LGBT community flex its economic muscle and fight rights abuses globally - from Chechnya to Uganda - while safeguarding the identity of members, said the charity behind a new digital initiative.
The LGBT Token scheme will use blockchain - the technology behind digital currencies such as bitcoin - to create a digital system that will make the community's economic power more visible, said the LGBT Foundation.
There is no precise measure for global spending by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, but the so-called "pink economy" is estimated at up to $4.6 trillion per year - larger than Germany's GDP - the charity said.
"This is a significant economic force that's still poorly understood by brands," Christof Wittig, president of the Hong Kong-based LGBT Foundation, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The digital tokens, which are expected to be issued in April, will be used with the existing Ethereum cryptocurrency.
Blockchains are ledgers of digital transactions, which are difficult to tamper with, and are maintained by a network of computers without a centralised authority.
Advocates are already exploring how blockchain can protect land rights, fight deforestation and end child trafficking.
The LGBT Token system will make the purchasing power of the LGBT community visible, giving greater economic clout to its members - without jeopardising their privacy, Witting said.
"It's one's own choice what type of relationship and membership you have to the LGBT community," he said. "And blockchain allows for safe affiliation to the community."
Blockchain also allows verification of a person's identity without jeopardising their safety, said Chris Wood, executive director of U.S. nonprofit LGBT Technology Partnership.
"It's extremely important, especially in parts of the world where our community isn't accepted," said Wood.
The scheme will also eventually fundraise for LGBT causes through the sale of additional tokens each year. Funding will be allocated by token holders to issues they see as important.
Wittig said this could support causes like combating the persecution of gay men in places like Uganda or Chechnya. The LGBT community in this deeply conservative region of Russia has reported intensifying persecution and abuse by authorities.
Creating a unified and visible network would also help the LGBT community rally around such rights abuses, allowing it to respond with aid and assistance.
"All in all, it would brings our community together in a way that I don't think any current system does," said Wood. (Reporting by Ana Ionova, Editing by Robert Carmichael. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)
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