By Danielle Corcione
Despite how queer and trans communities still face inequalities in the workforce, they’ve made remarkable contributions within the technology industry.
However, this isn’t a new fact: the LGBTQIA community has been involved in tech all along, but unfortunately, they’ve often excluded and erased from historical narratives. To celebrate Pride Month, we’ve compiled a just a few prominent contributions the LGBTQIA community has made in technology from both the past and present.
If you’ve seen The Imitation Game, you’ll know the story of British computer scientist Alan Turing, also known as the creator of modern computing. During World War II, the innovator hacked into German military algorithms and helped his country strategically advance in cybersecurity. The 2014 film depicts Turing’s persistence to keep his queerness as a secret in mid-twentieth century England, a time not long ago where gay men were criminalized.
Fortunately, attitudes towards the LGBTQIA community are shifting; we’re not only being accepted, we’re being included, embraced, and celebrated not only for our accomplishments, but visibility.
As visibility grows, more leaders are proud to be out in technology. It was Turing’s legacy that inspired programmer Jon Hall, the Executive Director of Linux International, to publicly come out in June 2012. In honor of the legend’s innovator’s birthday, the programmer made the announcement in an article published in Linux Magazine. Nicknamed “maddog” by his Hartford State Technical College students, he has been an advocate for free software and open source technology.
Embracing visible queerness certainly has a ripple effect in professional spaces. For instance, Michael Soileau, Vice President of Strategy and Planning at Comcast, says he has never been the only queer person in the room while working for the company. Additionally, his industry inspiration includes Apple CEO Tim Cook and software entrepreneur and HIV/AIDS nonprofit leader Tim Gill.
“Comcast continually works to make diversity and inclusion an everyday part of our culture,” Soileau elaborates. “It’s part of our fabric – and it is a wonderful effort and work journey benefiting not only our employees but also our customers. We look like our customers.”
“In particular,” adds Comcast’s Senior Vice President of Global Chief Information Security Myrna Soto, “with Comcast’s support of Out, our LGBTQ ERG group, and by promoting more LGBTQ leaders and content to their customers, we pride ourselves on our devotion to LGBTQ inclusivity. We have done a great job taking a stance and I expect that to continue.”
— OUT@Comcast (@OUTComcast) June 1, 2017
Some prominent leaders include (but are certainly not limited to): Gawker Media founder Nick Denton, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, United States Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, Recode podcast founder and technology journalist Kara Swisher, former IBM engineer Edith Windsor, Twitter engineer Dana McCallum, IBM innovator Lynn Conaway, and TransTech CEO Angelica Ross.
In technology particularly, a queer lens brings forth a refreshing perspective when it comes to problem-solving, even beyond dating apps like Grindr and HER.
“There’s a reason that over one third of the Fortune 500—including most of the leading tech, science, and pharmaceutical companies—openly embrace Certified LGBT Business Enterprises in their supply chains,” says Jonathan Lovitz, Senior Vice President of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s innovation. Every day, we are creating jobs and expanding industries by putting our community’s entrepreneurial spirit to work.”
“There are a bunch of organizations out there doing good work for queer people in tech,” self-employed front-end developer Cole Brown explains. “I subscribe to Queer People of Tech on Medium to hear stories from queer perspectives. I think hearing stories from queer people in their own words is extremely important, especially when looking to increase acceptance/openness in tech spaces and companies.”
In Philadelphia, medical student Nic Anthony and design activist Catherine Hofmann created QSPACES, an app to find, rate, and review medical providers based on their LGBTQIA competency. In Washington, D.C., nonprofit professional Kesha Garner and graphic designer Kevin Hawkins created Queer Review, a platform for LGBTQIA folks to rate businesses and public accommodations. In Los Angeles, collaborative knowledge database Equaldex maps and visualizes LGBTQ-related legislation from all over the work. The list goes on.
“OUT in Tech is an awesome organization that works to connect LGBTQ youth with networking opportunities and internships,” adds Derek Tarcza, Comcast’s Director of Software Development and Program Management. “I think this is phenomenal because it helps youth to explore their techie side and their passions for various areas of technology and creativity.”
“I have really enjoyed getting to be a part of and go to Lesbians Who Tech events over the years,” says Evie Smith, founder of Rebellious PR and Consulting. “I think what the founder Leanne [Pittsford] is doing is pretty amazing and there is not another organization like it that is celebrating queer women in tech in the same way.”
— Lesbians Who Tech (@lesbiantech) June 9, 2017
There are also folks who work in technology that aren’t necessarily developers and engineers, such as reporters, digital marketers, public relations professionals, small business owners, and those in more administrative roles that shouldn’t be overlooked. For instance, some prominent media professionals include freelance journalist Myriam Joire, Axios Chief Technology Correspondent Ina Fried, and TechCrunch reporter Taylor Hatmaker.
“Starting my own company has been awesome and I get to create space that I want to work in,” Smith adds. “ I would like to see more LGBT people starting and running companies. I think that is really key and understand it is easier said than done.”
“People need to feel that their full selves are actually contributing to the mission of the company,” says Jim Halloran, GLAAD Chief Digital Officer. “When a product issue arises, like YouTube’s restricted mode, we need to be asking ‘What decision makers were present for product development?’ What voices weren’t represented that could have mitigated this before it became an issue?’”
As we celebrate Pride this month, let’s give thanks to those making a difference in technology in both the past and present not just for their contributions alone, but for their visibility in a traditionally heteronormative field.