This month, EqualEngineers is celebrating 12 people who paved the way for a more inclusive industry
There is a rich and diverse LGBT history in the world, and one that has only been celebrated in the UK since February 2005. A movement started by Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick as part of the Schools OUT project, it’s become widely known for highlighting those who have paved the way for a diverse and inclusive world.
This LGBT history month, EqualEngineers is celebrating and highlighting 12 LGBT role models in the engineering and technology industry. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and we welcome you to highlight other incredible STEM role models in the comments below!
1951 – 2012
Kicking off our list is American physicist, Sally Ride – the THIRD woman in space and a multi-award winning ‘hero of aviation.’ Her bisexual identity was a closely guarded secret until her death in 2012. Then, in November 2013, Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously, which is the highest civilian award available in the United States. Her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy received the award in her honour in a ceremony in the White House.
1904 – 1982
Considered the first man to openly admit his homosexuality in Sweden, Allan was also a Swedish engineer and founder of RFSL – The rights of the Swedish National Association for homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender people and queer people. After his death, The Allan Hellman Prize was created in memory of Hellman’s contributions to society. The prize is awarded to anyone who ‘during the past year, has worked in a meritorious manner and in Allan Hellman’s spirit to increase sexual equality in society.’
1840 – 1912
A teacher, feminist and physician, Sophia led a campaign in the 1800’s as part of the ‘Edinburgh Seven’ to enable women to secure access to University education. She studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869 and was the first practising female doctors in Scotland. Her romantic relationship with Dr Margaret Todd was the source of gossip at the time, but nevertheless, they retired together and move to Windydene in 1899.
1901 – 1972
Our fourth hero introduces the infamous Gavin Arthur, an Ivy League dropout and Irish Republican Army activist. An astrologer and sexologist, Gavin was an experimental film actor, a commune leader, a gold prospector, a teacher at San Quentin, and the grandson of US President Chester A. Arthur. He is on our list because he was also a gay rights activist and ‘practical prototype’ for hippies. In short, Quentin marched to his own beat his whole life and merely asked everyone to keep up!
Sara Josephine Baker
1873 – 1945
Sara is an inspiration for her pioneering inter-feminism work. Early on, she fought for the rights of immigrant communities in New York. Fighting against urban poverty, she educated the ignorant on the harm it caused to children and newborns, noting how the mortality rate for newborns in the US was higher than soldiers fighting in World War One. A renowned lesbian who lived the later part of her life with novelist, Ida Alexa Ross Wylie, she went on to become a professional representative for the League of Nations by serving on the Health Committee for the US from 1922 to 1924. Not only that, she was an avid activist in various groups and societies and wrote four books, an autobiography and 250 published articles!
Co-founder of 500 Queer Scientists, Lauren not only deserves her name on this list because of her activism, but also her work with spiders! As the Assistant Curator and Schlinger Chair of Arachnology at the Californian Academy of Sciences, she discovered a new species of ghost scorpion in Penang Hill rainforest, and identified that a certain species of scorpion ‘hiss’ by rubbing themselves with comb like structures.
Uzi is well known for being the first openly gay member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament). A professor of physical chemistry at Tel Aviv University, former politician and participant in the first Knesset hearing on gays and lesbians in 1993, he gave a testimony that led to a change in law allowing gay men to serve in the army in any position. After marrying his partner, Amit Kama in Canada, he went on to sue Tel Aviv for refusing Amit equal spousal rights compared to others in heterosexual marriages, winning his case! Then, in 2009, the family court legally allowed them to adopt their 30-year-old foster son, making them the first couple in Israel whose right of adoption was legally acknowledged. Sadly, Amit and Uzi divorced in 2012, although set another precedent when it was granted by the Rabbinical Court who don’t recognise same-sex marriages.
Alan L. Hart
1890 – 1962
Alan was one of the first transgender men to undergo a hysterectomy procedure in the US in 1917 – 1918. Although he endured several difficulties with his transgender status, he married his wife, Eva Cushman who he met in college, going on to become a success physician, radiologist, tuberculosis researcher, writer and novelist. His work in pioneering the use of x-ray photography to detect and screen for TB saved thousands of lives.
1925 – 2011
Frank is one of the most significant figures in American history for his gay rights activism. An accomplished astronomer, he was dismissed from his position after his homosexuality was revealed. He didn’t back down and fought the establishment tooth and nail, spearheading a movement for gay rights in the 1960’s. Although he lost his dismissal appeal, it was the first time a civil rights claim had been brought to a US court based on sexual orientation. Despite this loss, he won various awards throughout his life for his contributions to society and equality. In June 2019, he was posthumously inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honour within the Stonewall National Monument that celebrates the pioneers, trailblazers and heroes of LGBTQ rights.
Audrey is another notable addition to this list for her work as a Taiwanese free software programmer and one of the ‘Ten Greats of Taiwanese Computing Personalities.’ She is also the first transgender minister in the top executive cabinet of the Taiwan Executive Yuan, making history at the young age of 35.
Agnes E. Wells
1876 – 1959
Agnes was the Dean of Women at Indiana University and the professor of mathematics and astronomy there. As a woman’s equal rights activist, she was a member of the National Woman’s Party and became its chair in 1949. She lived with her partner, Lydia Woodbridge until she died in 1946, leaving Agnes to live with her sister until she died in 1959.
1912 – 1954
Our list wouldn’t be complete without Alan Turing, who is one of the most notable and tragic gay figures of all time. A mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher and theoretical biologist, he is considered the father of computer science and AI. However, due to his homosexuality and the Official Secrets Acts, his achievements weren’t recognised until long after his death.
Furthermore, his help in cracking the Enigma Code (thus winning the war), shorting the war in Europe by more than two years and saving over 14 million lives wasn’t enough to save him from prosecution for ‘gross indecency’ in 1952. This conviction led him to accept a chemical castration treatment as punishment. Sadly, in 1954, he died from cyanide poisoning, which was determined as a suicide despite evidence that suggests it was an ‘accidental’ poisoning. Tragically, he will never know how the UK went on to honour him, with Gordon Brown making an official public apology on behalf of the British government for the way he was treated, the posthumous pardon he received from the Queen in 2013, the law passed in 2017 that retroactively pardoned men cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed male homosexual acts, and the Bank of England £50 note that depicts his likeness.
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