The technology industry, specifically Silicon Valley, isn’t known for its diversity. Despite this, LGBTQ+ people have contributed many technological advancements behind the scenes throughout the years. In the past LGBTQ+ inventors had to fight for their place in technological history, but now others are paving the way for present and future generations. Organizations like Lesbians Who Tech & Allies, StartOut, Trans*H4CK, and TransTech Social Enterprises are actively working to improve the visibility of LGBTQ+ people in the industry, enhance office diversity, and provide resources to the community.
In honor of pride month, DOMA will be shining the spotlight on 10 LGBTQ+ inventors and entrepreneurs past and present who have changed the landscape of technology.
You can’t make a list of influential figures in technology without including the “Progenitor of Modern Computing,” Alan Turing. He is most well known for helping to break the enigma code during WWII, but his hypothesis and designs influenced computing and AI as we know it today.
He hypothesized and designed the Universal Turing Machine, which identified the limits of human computation. His later design for the Automatic Computing Engine was the first complete design for an all-purpose digital computer. He was one of the first people to put forward the idea of AI, believing that the brain is in part a digital computing machine. In 1950 he created the Turing Test, which would test whether an artificial computer is thinking.
Unfortunately, his life was derailed when he was convicted by Britain in 1952 for being gay and sentenced to 12 months of hormone “therapy.” Despite this, he continued to work, delving into artificial life. He wouldn’t finish this potentially groundbreaking work. His life was tragically cut short when he was found dead of cyanide poisoning in his home. It is still unknown whether his death was an accident or intentional.
Turing would never receive the acknowledgment or apologies he deserved in his lifetime. His mistreatment was finally acknowledged by the British Government in 2009 when Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly apologized for his “utterly unfair treatment,” and he was later pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013.
Today Turing is recognized as one of the most influential figures in Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Mathematics, and Philosophy.
Read More About Alan Turing
Lynn Conway has accomplished many things in her career as a computer scientist. However, she is probably best known for her pioneering invention of multiple out-of-order dynamic instruction scheduling and an internet e-commerce infrastructure for rapid chip prototyping. Unfortunately, between these 2 inventions, Conway was fired by IBM while undergoing transition surgery in 1968.
After her transition, she rapidly worked her way back up through the industry. She was recruited by Xerox PARC in 1973, where she invented an internet e-commerce infrastructure for rapid chip prototyping. This led to the rapid development of chip designs which facilitated many future technology startups.
She is now retired but continues to be an outspoken advocate for the Trans community.
Ann Mei Chang started her work in Silicon Valley for companies such as; Google, Apple, and Intuit. She has since worked as an expert in social innovation both as the Chief Innovation Officer at Mercy Corps and the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.
During this time she was part of the committee that conceived and launched the Alliance for Affordable Internet(A4AI). According to their website (link below), “A4AI brings together businesses, governments, and civil society actors from across the globe to deliver the policies needed to reduce the cost to connect and make universal, affordable internet access a reality for all.”
Jon “Maddog” Hall has done many things in technology but is probably most well known for being the Executive Director of Linux. He began his interest in Linux early in his career. In 1994 he met Linus Torvalds and worked with him to make the Linux kernel 64-bit portable across hardware architectures. He has inspired many with his work and by being a proponent of the Linux operating system.
Hall is also involved in several worthy causes, including being the President of Project Cauã: an open-source software and hardware project. The project aims to create millions of new high-tech jobs in Brazil and the rest of Latin America.
Angela Ross is an actress, activist, entrepreneur, and self-taught computer programmer who founded TransTech Social Enterprises in 2013. According to their website (link below), their mission is “to empower, educate, and employ those facing barriers in education and in the workplace, as well as to reduce instances of discrimination, with a concentration on trans and gender non conforming individuals.” They also provide graphic design, workshops and trainings, app development, WordPress redesign, web development, social media management, media production, and data entry that benefits the trans community.
James Felton Keith has done many things throughout his career. He started as an Engineer, was the first black LGBTQ+ person to run for US Congress, and has been working toward equality and inclusivity through his entrepreneurial ventures.
As the Founder and President of the nonprofit The Data Union, he recognizes the impact that the data collected by corporations has on our economy and culture. Technology corporations’ use of people’s data has increasingly become an issue; what data can or should be collected is hotly debated. The Data Union works towards income equality for the mining extract and distribution of our data.
Sophie Wilson is best known for designing the ARM Core Processor with Steve Furber in the 1980s. According to the Computer History Museum (link below), “The ARM processor core is now used in thousands of different products, from mobile phones and tablets to digital televisions and video games. The number of ARM processor cores now shipped exceeds 30 billion, or more than four ARM microprocessors for every person on earth.” Her invention has now been a part of billions of lives, making her one of the most influential women in technology.
Read More About Sophie Wilson
Peter Landin is most well known for inventing the Stack, Environment, Control, Dump (SECD) Machine. This machine was the first theoretical computer used for a functional programming language. He also coined many sayings that are still used in computer sciences today such as, “syntactic sugar” and “the next 700.”
He was also an activist who was involved with the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s.
Read More About Peter Landin
Leanne Pittsford is an activist and entrepreneur who founded Lesbians Who Tech & Allies in 2012, the largest LGBTQ community of technologists in the world. According to their website (link below), “Lesbians Who Tech & Allies is a community of LGBTQ women, non-binary, and trans individuals in and around tech (and the people who support them).” One of their main goals is to get more women, POC, and trans people into technology.
Dr. Kortney Ziegler is a blogger, artist, and scholar whose work centers around black queer/trans issues. In 2013, Ziegler founded Trans*H4CK, which originally started as a hack-a-thon, where experts in the community came together to create digital tools to better the trans community.
The organization continues their work today, according to the Trans*H4CK website (link below), “We shift the ways trans*, gender non conforming, agender and non binary people live by creating technology that economically empowers, improves access to social services, promotes gender safety and community sustainability, while bringing visibility to trans* tech innovators and entrepreneurs.”
This article is by no means comprehensive in showcasing the impact LGBTQ+ people have had on the technology industry. However, we hope it will spark an interest in learning more about the impact of the LGBTQ+ community. Encouraging minorities and women to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers or build their own businesses invigorates those industries with a fresh perspective. Diversity within the tech space is growing, and we at DOMA believe that meaningful change begins from within. It is our goal to build an inclusive, collaborative environment that values everyone’s unique contributions. We are committed to helping people find their place in the technology sector.
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