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According to the Library of Congress, LGBTQ+ Pride Month, currently celebrated every year in June, began to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969. The uprising occurred in Manhattan, NY, when NYC police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village. Six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement followed, and today, the Stonewall Riots are acknowledged as a major catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States.
Three presidents of the United States have officially declared the institution and recognition of pride month. First, President Bill Clinton declared June "Gay & Lesbian Pride Month" in 1999 and 2000. Then, from 2009 to 2016, each year he was in office, President Barack Obama declared June LGBT Pride Month. Later, in 2021, President Joe Biden declared June LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
As you can imagine, many of our past and currently developing innovations would not exist without key involvement from LGBTQ+ STEM pioneers. Today, we acknowledge four of those (many) individuals with the goal of highlighting their contribution to their fields.
“I didn't succumb to the stereotype that science wasn't for girls. I got encouragement from my parents. I never ran into a teacher or a counselor who told me that science was for boys."
As the first American woman in space, Sally Ride broke down barriers and achieved amazing heights as an astronaut. Born in Encino, Los Angeles, Ride joined NASA in 1983, which was the first year women were selected to join space missions. She became the first American woman and the third woman in space after cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. After flying two missions on the Space Shuttle Challenger, Ride left NASA in 1987.
After her time with NASA, Ride worked for two years at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Arms Control, then at the University of California, San Diego, primarily researching nonlinear optics and Thomson scattering. She served on the committees that investigated the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle disasters. She went on to found Sally Ride Science, a foundation dedicated to promoting literacy diversity in STEM and posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, accepted by her life partner.
Ride died of pancreatic cancer on July 23, 2012, and, tragically, only came out publicly as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in her obituary, written by Tam O'Shaughnessy, Ride's surviving partner of 27 years. Ride is still the first and only acknowledged LGBTQ+ astronaut. Today, Ride's legacy and life story continue to inspire others in the LGBTQ+ community.
“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”
Ever heard of the Turing test? Named after Alan Turing, it’s a test that determines whether a computer is capable of thinking like a human being (although the relevance of the Turing test is actively contested, the test still stands as a philosophical starting point for discussing and researching AI; learn more about the test here).
In the 1940s and 1950s, Alan Turing pioneered the field of machine learning and is also considered the founder of computer science as it is currently understood. Born in 1912, Turing showed early interest in science, specifically in using “the thing that is commonest in nature and with the least waste of energy.” His interests led him to pursue an undergraduate degree from King's College, Cambridge. A distinguished degree in 1934 was followed by a fellowship of King's in 1935 and a Smith's prize in 1936 for work on probability theory.
In 1938, Turing was offered a temporary post at Princeton, but he preferred to return to Cambridge. Turing secretly began work part-time for the government cryptanalytic department. Pre-scientific methods had failed to penetrate the mechanical Enigma cipher used by Germany. When war was declared Turing moved to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. In 1942, Turing devised the first systematic method for breaking messages encrypted by the sophisticated German cipher machine that the British called “Tunny.” At the end of the war, Turing was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his code-breaking work.
Turing's homosexuality became a definitive part of his identity, but would turn out to keep him from pursuing the important work he’d trained many years to be offered. Homosexuals had become ineligible for security clearance, and he was therefore excluded. His personal life was now subject to intense surveillance by the authorities, who regarded his sexuality to be a risk to national security. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a royal pardon 59 years after a housekeeper found his body at his home at Wilmslow, near Manchester in northwest England. A coroner determined that he had died of cyanide poisoning and that he had taken his own life.
“Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life.”
Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, is known for shaping the tech giant as we know it today and advocating for developing environmentally friendly products. He made history as the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to come out publicly as gay in a Bloomberg essay in 2014. Cook was born in Mobile, Alabama, United States. Cook went on to earn a BS in industrial engineering from Auburn University in 1982, and an MBA from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business in 1988.
Cook spent 12 years with IBM, most recently as director of North American Fulfillment, where he led manufacturing and distribution functions for IBM’s Personal Computer Company in North and Latin America. Cook next served as chief operating officer of the Reseller Division at Intelligent Electronics.
Prior to joining Apple, Cook was vice president of Corporate Materials for Compaq, responsible for procuring and managing all of Compaq’s product inventory. Once joining Apple, Cook was first Apple’s chief operating officer, responsible for the company’s worldwide sales and operations. He also headed Apple’s Macintosh division and played a key role in the continued development of strategic reseller and supplier relationships, ensuring flexibility in response to an increasingly demanding marketplace. Cook was named CEO in August 2011.
Like Sally Ride, Cook maintains a high level of privacy around his personal life, keeping his hobbies and other personal details to himself as much as possible. Cook has won many awards, including Financial Times Person of the Year (2014), Fortune's World's Greatest Leader (2015), and the Courage Against Hate award from Anti-Defamation League (2018).
“When people tell me my words inspire them I can’t help but feel that I am leaving something behind for them to keep.”
Lynn Conway is also considered a pioneer among early computer scientists. Conway was born in 1938 in Mount Vernon, NY. After studying physics at MIT and earning a BS in 1962 and an MSEE in 1963 from Columbia University, Conway joined IBM Research in Yorktown Heights, NY, where she worked on IBM's Advanced Computing Systems project.
Unfortunately, IBM fired Conway as she underwent gender transition in 1968; however, the loss of the position was a nonnegotiable sacrifice as Conway reflected on her need to live her life on her terms—a decision that not only cost her this position but friends and relatives as at this time, the idea of transsexuality was not only taboo but condemned. By the time Conway embarked on her transition, she had married a young woman and was the father of two daughters.
After rejoining the workforce under a new identity, Conway quickly advanced to become a computer architect at Memorex. Conway was recruited by Xerox PARC in 1973 where she invented scalable design rules for VLSI chip design, became principal author of the famous Mead-Conway text Introduction to VLSI systems, and in 1978, while serving as a Visiting Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (EECS) at MIT, pioneered the teaching of the new digital system design methods which subsequently encouraged a revamping of microchip design in the 1980s.
After continuing to progressively contribute to her field, Conway joined the University of Michigan in 1985 as Professor of EECS and Associate Dean of Engineering. She is credited with a key advance used in out-of-order execution by inventing generalized dynamic instruction handling, which is used today by most computer processors to improve performance. Conway has since retired, and she lives with her engineer husband in rural Michigan.