As we round out LGBTQ+ History Month this October, Out in Tech brings you a few LGBTQ+ figures who have shaped the history of technology. In addition to being at the forefront of the fight for civil rights, these queer leaders were at the helm of some substantial technological developments that paved the way for tech innovation. Here are six legendary individuals and their contributions to tech:
1. Edith Windsor (1929 – 2017)
Many know Edith Windsor as a vigorous LGBTQIA+ activist, who was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court Case United States v. Windsor, which overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and led to the legalization of gay marriage. When her wife died in 2009, Windsor discovered the US law did not recognize same-sex couples as “spouses” and she would therefore have to pay taxes to inherit her late wife’s estate. A court case later ruled in Windsor’s favor and led the way for other court rulings granting more equality for same-sex couples.
What’s less well known is that Windsor was a computer programmer and an engineer, working with the UNIVAC at Combustion Engineering, Inc., and later at IBM in the 1950s and ’60s for around 16 years, holding several roles in software engineering at the firm including as a mainframe programmer and a senior systems programmer.
2. Sally Ride (1951 – 2012)
Sally Ride was the first American woman in space and the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space, having joined NASA in 1978.
On the space shuttle mission, Ride was responsible for controlling a robotic arm and assisted in launching satellites into space. She visited space again in 1984. Once she left NASA in 1987, she went on to be an advocate for getting girls into STEM by writing books for both students and teachers.
Later in life, she had a relationship with Women’s Tennis Association player Tam O’Shaughnessy. Ride died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 61.
3. Jon “Maddog” Hall (born 1950)
Jon “Maddog” Hall is well known as the Executive Director of Linux. 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. With more than 50 years of experience in the tech sector, Hall has been part of and witnessed some of the turning points in technology.
In 2012, he announced in an article for a Linux-focused publication that he is gay after writing an open letter about one of his heroes Alan Turing after the anniversary of Turing’s birthday.
4. Peter Landin (1930-2009)
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. Interestingly, Landin would come to regret his contributions to computing later in life, believing he’d aided profit-hungry corporations and enabled a surveillance state.
He was also known for his political activism, which included involvement in the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s; an open bisexual, Landin was a vocal proponent of queer rights.
5. Lynn Conway (b. 1938)
Lynn Conway is a pioneer of microelectronics chip design. She attended both MIT and Columbia University and in 1964 was recruited by IBM to work on an advanced supercomputer. While at IBM she transitioned from male to female and was subsequently fired by the company in 1968 after revealing her intention to live as a woman. Conway then began living with a new name and a new identity and was forced to rebuild her career from scratch, going on to do important work at organizations including Memorex, Xerox PARC, and DARPA. In 2014 Time magazine named her one of the “21 Transgender People Who Influenced American Culture.”
6. Sophie Wilson (born 1957)
Sophie Wilson is best known for her development of the Acorn RISC Machine (ARM) processor, still used today in 21st-century smartphones. In the early days of her career, she worked for Acorn Computers, where she contributed to the design of the Acorn System 1, an early 8-bit computer released in 1979, and later the BBC Micro, which proved hugely successful in the UK.
Wilson transitioned from male to female in 1994.
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