This month is Pride Month, a time of celebration and acknowledgment for the LGBTQ+ community. During this joyful occasion, members of the LGBTQ+ community will celebrate Pride Month by embracing their identities and sharing their trues selves with the world.
We at Overt Software Solutions would like to commemorate this celebration of diversity by highlighting the remarkable achievements of five LGBTQ+ innovators, inventors, and scientists throughout history who have left an indelible mark on history.
Celebrating LGBTQ+ inventors
Back in the day, creativity and diversity were often associated, as the presence of the LGBTQ+ community in creative fields faced wider acceptance, while some parts of the scientific community were more modest in their expression of support. It is disheartening to consider that being part of the LGBTQ+ community was once (and in some cases still is) deemed a criminal offence.
Until 1967, the UK even imposed severe penalties, as harsh as life imprisonment, for homosexuality. This will have prevented many historical figures from coming out of the closet. As a result of this oppressive environment, many of history's greatest scientists have hidden their true identities.
In addition, for many years until 1975, in the United States, gay men and women have been excluded from working in the federal government.
This exclusionary practice has prevented them from pursuing research opportunities at universities and various academic careers. However, we can take solace in the progress made over the years. Today marriage equality and gay rights are becoming more commonplace, as society becomes more inclusive and diverse.
In this spirit of progress and inclusivity, let us introduce five LGBTQ+ inventors who have made significant contributions to technology. Their remarkable lives and groundbreaking work should inspire others who may struggle to come out or feel discouraged from pursuing their dreams.
1. Alan Turing (1912-1954)
British mathematician Alan Turing was a leading figure in the creation of the modern computer. He helped develop one of the first general-purpose computers (the blueprint for modern computers). He is extensively acclaimed to be "the father of computer science," and his work on artificial intelligence helped lay the foundations for modern-day robotics.
Turing worked at the British code-breaking center in Bletchley Park during World War II, where he broke the German Enigma code, contributing to the Allied victory.
The Bank of England has chosen World War II code breaker Alan Turing, who was one of the first pioneers in the computer world, to be the new image of the new 50 Pound Sterling note.
England's Victorian laws against homosexuality still overshadowed Turing's reputation while he was alive, and all of his work was kept secret for decades. The decision to include Turing as the highest denomination in British banknotes will allow the public to recognise him more and learn about his achievements during his lifetime.
2. Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850 - 1891)
In 1874, Sofia Kovalevskaya became the first major female mathematician of Russian descent. Amongst several editors of the scientific journal, she was also the first woman to work as an editor, where she helped make science more accessible to the public and contributed to developing the Cauchy–Kovalevskaya theorem.
The Cauchy–Kovalevskaya theorem states that certain systems of differential equations in several dimensions have solutions. The coefficients within the theorem is required for analytics to function. In real life, the Cauchy–Kovalevskaya theorem is used in many applications, including satellite design, construction, treatment plants, sensor data, stock markets, and robotics, etc.
Data analytics is a powerful tool in the hands of computer scientists. Collecting, analysing, and interpreting large amounts of data can help scientists to make more informed decisions when trying to improve their operations; data analytics allows them to quickly identify patterns, which is essential for planning solutions and optimising processes. Additionally, data analytics allows computer scientists to predict outcomes and plan for possible scenarios.
In the 19th century, although women were not allowed to formally attend university, Kovalevskaya could review and examine mathematics classes at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.
Kovalevskaya earned a doctorate in mathematics, making her the first woman in Europe to do so. With the help of Swedish mathematician Gösta Mittag-Leffler (whom she met through Leffler's sister), She later secured a position at Stockholm University.
In addition, Kovelskaya was the first woman appointed as a mathematics professor at the university. Kovalevskaya and Leffler's sister had an intimate "romantic friendship", and their relationship lasted until Kovalevskaya's death from influenza at 41.
3. Edith Windsor (1929 - 2017)
Edith “Edie” Windsor, an engineer and computer programmer, worked with the UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) while she was studying at New York University, and later at IBM (The International Business Machines Corporation) in the 1950s and '60s. She eventually became a senior systems engineer at IBM, the company’s highest technical rank.
According to her spouse, Thea Spyer, whom Edith was with for 40 years before marrying in 2007, Windsor was a romantic soul.
When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was liable for $363,053 in estate taxes from her partner's estate because DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) prevented her from taking advantage of the marital tax deduction available to all straight couples.
In 2010, Edie decided to file a lawsuit against the federal government over DOMA as it discriminated against same-sex spouses. Various lawyers declined to take her case, worried that the 81-year-old would die during the case and that suing for a large tax refund wouldn't make her a particularly compelling plaintiff.
In 2013, the Court abolished part of that law, which set it on a path toward its historic decision 2 years later, declaring a nationwide right to same-sex marriage equality. Eventually, Windsor was represented by Roberta Kaplan and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) on behalf of her case. She was photographed exiting the Supreme Court building smiling with her arms flung wide, a radiantly beautiful woman in her eighties wearing a bright pink scarf.
Edith Windsor, a gay rights activist and lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court Case United States v. Windsor (DOMA), achieved widespread recognition for helping legalize gay marriage in the United States.
4. Lynn Conway (1938 - )
Lynn Conway is a pioneer in the field of microelectronics chip design. She is mainly responsible for much of the modern silicon chip design revolution and her innovations at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) during the 1970s have directly influenced modern-day chip design.
Conway co-authored the textbook, Introduction to VLSI Systems, with Carver Mead of Caltech, and has inspired thousands of chip designers with her work. Many students have learned their craft from this text and done their first VLSI design projects using the government's MOSIS prototyping system, inspired by her work at PARC.
However, Conway faced many hardships throughout her life. She was born a maleand as a result suffered from gender dysphoria. While attending MIT during the late 50s, Conway undertook her first attempt at gender reasignment surgey, however unfortunately the attempt was unsuccessful, leaving her unable to finish college in 1957.
Later in 1968, after being headhunted by IBM, Conway lost her job as an engineer at the company when she informed them of her intention to transition. Following her unfair dismissal from IBM, she worked on VLSI microchip design at MIT, Xerox, and DARPA, revolutionising the microchip industry.
As Medical practices and techologies became more advanced, Conway decided to reattempt gender reasignment, and in 1968, she finally completed her gender transition journey!
5. Jon "Maddog" Hall (1950 - )
Jon "Maddog" Hall is the Chairman Emeritus of wit.com (an online community for software developers) and the Board Chair of the Linux Professional Institute. During his long career within commercial computing, Mr Hall has been a programmer, systems designer and administrator, product manager, technical marketing manager and CEO.
Mr Hall has worked on many different computer systems. He started working with Unix Systems in 1980, and later began working with Linux systems in 1994. This change was brought about after meeting Linus Torvalds, as he made Hall recognise the importance of Linux and free/open-source software.
Jon Hall has spoken about the benefits of Free and Open Source Software in over 100 countries and received his MS from RPI in Troy - NY, in 1977 and BS in Commerce and Engineering from Drexel University in 1973.
In June 2012, Hall announced his sexuality in a Linux Magazine article honoring Alan Turing.
The key takeaways
Laws and attitudes worldwide are slowly changing to be more welcoming of LGBTQ+ people and diverse minorities. In some countries, same-sex marriages are now legal and anti-discrimination laws have been put in place to help protect LGBTQ+ people from hate crimes.
Although in the UK things are improving and we have come along way in becoming more inclusive, there is still a ways to go before everyone feels fully welcome within our society. Many industries, such as, the science, technology, biology, and other related fields are actively continuing to adapt and learn how they can best create a more diverse culture; doing their part to shape a safe and inclusive space that will inspire ALL budding inovators.
More and more scientists, innovators and inventors are slowly feeling more comfortable in sharing their true and authentic selves with others within and outside of their industry community. Let's all hope that more inspirational world-changers will emerge, creating a wave of positive change in the world!