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Pride in Tech: LGBTQ+ Innovators Shaping the Future
Briana Watson

In the United States, June is recognized as Pride Month - a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and their rich history that has influenced the world we live in today. In the spirit of Pride Month, we at Total Phase wanted to highlight some of the LGBTQ+ innovators of the past that have help shaped the future of technology as we know it. Read along as we dive into prominent figures of the 20th and 21st centuries such as Alan Turing, Lynn Conway, Edith Windsor and others who paved the way for new generations of technological advancement.

rainbow pride flags at parade Photo by Patricia Luquet via Pexels

Alan Turing

Considered by many to be the father of computer science, Alan Turing is known for his contributions to mathematics that ultimately led to our modern understanding of computing, CS, and artificial intelligence. In 1936, he invented the Turing Machine, a hypothetical computing device that was able to prove simple computational properties that became the groundwork for modern computing inventions. In addition to being an expert mathematician, Turing was also a renowned code breaker that was responsible for breaking several Nazi ciphers during World War II thanks to the many techniques that he developed.

As homosexuality remained illegal in the United Kingdom during Turing’s life, he was eventually convicted in 1952 which resulted in his security clearance with the British government being removed. In 1954, he passed away but his legacy lives on today in a world that is both grateful for his ideas and accepting of his identity.

Lynn Conway

Without the incredible mind of Lynn Conway and the advancements that she brought to the field of computing, we would not have the streamlined ability to design complex integrated circuits such as the microchips and computer processors that are widely used in our electronic devices today.

Born in 1938, Conway found an early fascination with astronomy that ultimately led to her application and acceptance into the prestigious MIT in 1955. After school, she worked on various engineering teams for companies such as Memorex and Xerox PARC. It was during her time at the latter institution that she co-developed the VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) design methodology that would lead to a new ability to include several circuit designs from different sources onto a single microchip, revolutionizing the way microchips are designed and fabricated.

In addition to this feat of engineering, Conway broke barriers in the tech industry by being one of the first openly transgender women in this field. Her journey was not without struggle, though. By living proudly and authentically and undergoing her transition, many of her contributions were unrecognized or minimized and at one point she was even terminated from her position. Despite these challenges, Conway continued to make substantial contributions to the field of computer science and later became a professor at the University of Michigan.

Edith Windsor

Pride month can’t be properly celebrated without highlighting the iconic Edith Windsor. Windsor joined IBM as a programmer in 1958, where she worked for 16 years advancing IBM systems like the 7040 and System/360.

In the late ‘60s, ignited by the infamous Stonewall Riots, Windsor joined the fight for LGBTQ+ rights by donating time and money to several of her local LGBTQ+ organizations. In the ‘70s, she took an early retirement from her role as a technology manager and joined the fight for rights full time. Over the years, she dedicated her time, energy, and brilliance to helping the community achieve the right to marriage as well as caring full time for her partner, Thea Spyer.

In 2013, Windsor became a plaintiff in the United States v. Windsor case against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act which legally claimed that a “spouse” could only refer to a man married to a woman or vice versa. Windsor was a key figure in the fight to overturn DOMA and eventually, secure equal marriage rights for same sex couples in 2015.

Sophie Wilson

Many in the tech industry are familiar with ARM processors as they’ve become a preferred element of technology building thanks to the low cost and high efficiency they provide for devices. However, not many know of the brilliant mind that aided in their creation, Sophie Wilson. Wilson co-created the instruction set for the processor in 1983 during her long and fruitful career with Acorn Computers. In 1985, her team completed and delivered the ARM1, which worked immediately and eventually became a cornerstone element of all small computer devices; namely smartphones.

In addition to this impressive feat, Wilson also held a large responsibility in creating the prototype that would eventually become the British Broadcasting Corporation Microcomputer System, known colloquially as the ‘BBC Micro’. During all of these endeavors, Wilson began -and ultimately completed - her gender transition in the ‘90’s and lived her life proudly as both a woman and a true innovator of technology.

Sally Ride

Many people look up at the night sky and dream of exploring among the stars, but only a small few can actually say that they actually have. One of those people is the astronaut and physicist, Sally Ride. Ride is a phenomenal example of female empowerment as she became the first American woman - and third woman ever - to fly in space. Not only that but, she was also the youngest American to accomplish this, completing her first journey to the cosmos at only 32 years old. In addition to her travels to space, Ride worked on teams within NASA that developed essential tech to aid the astronauts in both their journeys and studies. One of these creations was the robotic arm that the space shuttles used for deployment and maneuvering in zero gravity.

Although Ride remained private about her sexuality throughout her life, it was revealed in her obituary that she had been in a long-time relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy, a female former professional tennis player and science writer. Together, Tam and Sally cofounded the Sally Ride Science education company which aims to promote careers in STEM to school aged children all across the country.

Tim Cook

Last but certainly not least on our list is Tim Cook, the current CEO of the universally renowned tech company, Apple. It seems impossible to imagine a world without the influence of Apple products and that is largely thanks to Cook who has been with the company since 1998. During his time with Apple, Cook has taken on various roles and provided a keen instinct for growth and innovation among the day to day business practices. In addition to this, he’s led the push for Apple to become a greener, more environmentally conscious company.

In 2013, Cook made the decision to come out publicly as a gay man in an editorial for Bloomberg Business. This decision was not taken lightly, as he knew it would affect the overall perception of him and the company. Still, Cook proudly declared who he was and became the first, and so far, only openly gay CEO for a Fortune 500 company.

Conclusion

Although this is by no means a comprehensive list, it still serves to show just how interwoven tech history and LGBTQ history has been over the years and why we celebrate the accomplishments of both communities. The various innovations mentioned here are ones that we all use today, whether we realize it or not. The list of achievements continues on, and we at Total Phase do our best to aid the next generations of innovators and inventors.

Tools like our host adapters, including the Aardvark I2C/SPI Host Adapter, allow engineers to emulate I2C or SPI systems and devices, while our protocol analyzers provide insight into the traffic/data exchanges over I2C, SPI, or USB buses to ensure seamless communication between devices. All of our products aim to source the best materials with the highest regard for both safety and environmental responsibility. From here, we continue our own efforts to move technology, and society, forward.

For more information on our embedded solutions, please email us at sales@totalphase.com