Celebrating The Impact and Legacy of LGBTQ+ Pioneers in Computer Science

In recognition of PRIDE this month, we’d like to highlight a remarkable group of pioneers in the field of computer science; individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ and whose groundbreaking work and discoveries have helped to shape the landscape of modern computer technology.

Acknowledging the historical context:

It’s crucial to understand that many of these individuals faced immense societal pressures, and even legal constraints, compelling them to conceal their true sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite these enormous challenges, their accomplishments remain even more remarkable, underpinning the importance of celebrating their achievements today and ensuring that we create a culture of inclusivity.

Edith Windsor: IBM engineer and American LBGTQ+ rights activist

Edie Windsor (1929-2017) is famous for winning a landmark case against the US government, which overturned Section 3, of the Defence of Marriage Act, which was the precursor for the legalisation of gay marriage. She was also a skilled programmer and computer engineer, working with the UNIBAC at Combustion Engineering Inc and later at IBM as a senior systems engineer.

ALAN TURING: Founding Father of Artificial Intelligence

Alan Turing is considered to be the founding father of artificial intelligence. His work as a cryptanalyst, developing machines to decipher German codes, during WWII was brought to life by Benedict Cumberbatch in the film, The Imitation Game. After the war, Turing contributed to the Automatic Computing Engine and stored-program computers. Later, at The University of Manchester, he developed the idea of AI, proposing what later became known as the ‘Turing Test. Tragically Turing was prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’ when authorities discovered he was gay. Homosexuality was a criminal offence at the time. He committed suicide by cyanide poisoning and died at the age of just 41. In 2009, 30,000 signatures called for the British government to apologise for Turing’s prosecution. Gordon Brown duly apologised.
Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair, and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him ... So, on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better.

Audrey Tang: Digital Minister of Taiwan and the first openly trans and non-binary, government minister in the world.

Audrey Tang built a literacy curriculum for Taiwanese schools. And, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tang helped to implement a new mask tracking system, so Taiwanese citizens could locate and buy masks easily. Using government stock tracking in pharmacies across Taiwan, people could track mask availability 24/7. Tang’s solution helped Taiwan to reduce cases of COVID-19. Tang identifies as non-binary and was the first openly trans government minister in the world.

Peter Landin: British Computer Scientist and gay rights activist.

Peter Landin was a British computer scientist famous for his work on Algorithmic Languages that could be understood by different machines. He went on to become an emeritus professor at Queen Mary College, London. Landin was married but openly bisexual. He became involved in gay rights, joining the GLF Gay Liberation Front in the early ’70s.

Lyn Conway: American Computer Scientist and Transgender Rights Activist

Lyn Conway attended both MIT and Columbia University, and in 1964 joined IBM to work on a supercomputer. Whilst at IBM she transitioned from male to female and was fired after revealing to her colleagues that she intended to live as a woman. After transitioning Conway took up a career as a consultant in what she calls, ‘stealth mode’, making significant contributions in chip design. She has also advocated for equal rights, opportunities, and employment protections for transgender people in tech.

Tim Cook, Apple boss and first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500.

Tim Cook is the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. He had not previously opened up about his sexuality in an attempt to maintain his privacy whilst leading one of the world’s most scrutinised companies.
While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” Cook, 53, said in an article for BusinessWeek. “For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.

And on that note, as we celebrate the LGBTQ+ pioneers of computer science, let’s recognise the immense courage, resilience, and talent these individuals possess. Despite the challenges they faced, their groundbreaking contributions continue to shape the sector and inspire others. By celebrating their achievements, we don’t forget the contemporary struggles still faced by many in modern societies, and we reaffirm our commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and progress within the tech world.