For Pride Month, we are highlighting a few of the notable LGBTQ+ inventors and innovators past and present who have made an impact in STEM.
Alan was a widely respected computer scientist and mathematician. One of his great successes was his vital code-cracking success in helping break the German Enigma code during World War II. Though not a patent-holder himself, his work served as a solid foundation for many modern inventions. In 1936, he wrote a ground-breaking paper exploring the theory of instruction-processing machines. His ideas in this paper are thought to be responsible for the birth of computers. Turing is also known for his thought experiment behind testing a machine’s ability to show human-like behavior is a corner of artificial intelligence (AI) engineering: the “Turing Test.” His input also became a core component of the “Complete Automated Public Turing Test” (CAPTCHA).
Sadly, Turing took his own life at age 41, two years after being outed as gay, convicted of “indecency,” and subject to chemical castration as punishment because homosexuality was a crime in Great Britain. He was granted a posthumous pardon almost 60 years later.
Sally joined NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman in space in 1983, making her the third woman in space overall. She was the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space, having done so at the age of 32. She worked at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control, then at the University of California, San Diego researching nonlinear optics and Thomson scattering. She served on the committees that investigated the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters, the only person to participate in both.
Sally died of pancreatic cancer in 2012. She left the decision to come out as a member of the LGBTQ community up to her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, who disclosed the relationship during Sally’s obituary.
Sean was recognized as LGBTQ+ Scientist of the Year in 2020 by the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP) for his substantial contributions to the field of virology. He made notable discoveries in Ebola and Rabies research, as well as innovations in antiviral therapeutics. Sean is a patent holder for “methods for treating Filoviridae infections” which includes Ebola virus infections. He is currently the Chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Lynn holds a notable number of innovations from her work at MIT, IBM, Xerox PARC, and DARPA. She is credited with the invention of generalized dynamic instruction handling, used in most modern computer processors today to improve performance. She is known for her work also on VSLI microchip design, which has revolutionized the industry. She was significantly involved in videophone technology in the 90s. She was an Associate Professor at EECS at MIT who pioneered the teaching of new digital system design methods. Also was a professor of EECS at U of M, and has retired in rural Michigan.
Lynn completed her gender transition in 1968. When she came out as Trans, she was fired from IBM. However in 2020, IBM apologized and gave her a lifetime achievement award. She is now a lead transgender activist and was named one of the “Stonewall 40 Trans Heros.”