Technology is an integral part of our lives. From phones to cars and all the machines in between that pass unnoticed, the modern world owes much to the brilliant minds that continue make it all possible.
Take a look at a few of those inventors—ones who not only contributed so much to the world of technology, but who represent the ingenuity and indomitable spirit of the LGBTQ community.
1. The Computer
Not only did the computer completely reshape the 20th century, its ubiquitous presence continues to shape the destiny of the 21st century as well. While there are myriad minds that have contributed to the modern machines we have today, they’d be lost without the one who started it all—Alan Turing.
A brilliant mathematician, cryptanalyst, computer scientist, logician, philosopher and theoretical biologist, Turing is considered by many to be the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence. His “Turing Machine” was key to decoding the Nazi’s Enigma Machine during World War II, a move that almost single-handedly won the war for the Allies. His “Turing Test” is still used today to determine if a machine or a computer can “think” in a way that makes it indistinguishable from a human—in fact, it's the basis for CAPTCHAS: Completely Automated Public Turing tests to tell Computers and Humans Apart.
Turing was gay during a time when homosexuality was illegal. In 1952 he was charged with “gross indecency” related to “homosexual acts.” He agreed to chemical castration over prison, but took his own life when he was 41.
The full story of Turing’s brilliance was declassified in the mid-1970s, leading to several books and an Oscar-winning film, The Imitation Game. Queen Elizabeth II posthumously pardoned Turning of his homosexual “crimes” in 2003, and the January 2017 “Turing law” retroactively pardoned an additional 65,000 people convicted of “gross indecency”—including Oscar Wilde—15,000 of whom were still living at the time of pardoning.
2. The Helicopter
From Hollywood films to traffic reporters, Marine One to tourist flights, the helicopter is an instantly recognizable mode of transportation. But even before its first flight in 1936, a 15th century Florentine inventor by the name of Leonardo da Vinci was already dreaming up concepts of helicopter flight.
His “aerial screw” used rotors to achieve vertical flight, but it lacked the ability to keep the whole contraption from spinning along with them. Da Vinci’s drawings and models have contributed to many other future technologies, including the tank and the submarine. It’s commonly thought that da Vinci was gay or bisexual. The inventor and several of his male associates were charged with sodomy in 1476, but never prosecuted. Art historians have also turned to da Vinci’s often erotic and androgynous work for clues to his sexuality.
3. The iPhone
Smartphones, digital communication, social media, technology—all of these things have been undeniably impacted by the advent of the iPhone. And while countless minds have worked to give us the hardware we’re familiar with today, Apple CEO Tim Cook has been a key player in paving the way for innovation.
An out gay man, Cook made the controversial decision to invest heavily in flash memory technology. This hardware played a critical role in devices like the iPod Nano, iPad and the ever-present iPhone. Cook has continued Apple founder Steve Jobs’ legacy, fostering an environment where innovation, out-of-the-box thinking and diversity flourish.
4. Microelectronics and Microprocessors
Computers no longer take up entire floors of buildings. They no longer require gallons of coolant. We can fit computers into bags, pockets, watches, implants, even cells. All of this is possible thanks to advancements in microelectronics and microprocessors.
As with most industrial progress, the collective thinking and ingenuity of multiple bright minds are required for the exponential technological leaps we’ve made in the last several decades. The same holds true for microtechnologies. However, a pioneering mind in the field is trans activist, computer scientist, electrical engineer and inventor, Lynn Conway.
Conway studied at MIT and Columbia University, eventually taking a job with IBM in the 1960s. During her transition, she was fired from IBM. But that didn’t stop her. She re-entered the industry in the late ‘60s, and became an integral voice in the creation of the Mead & Conway revolution, a reimagining of academic structures that revolutionized the thinking around microelectronics. Her contributions to the field helped simplify chip designs, and even contributed to autonomous systems and intelligent weapons technology for the Defense Department’s Strategic Computing Initiative.
5. Your Favorite Google Apps
While apps themselves may not be machines, they are certainly created using machines and require machines to be accessed. Some of Google’s biggest apps, including GMail, YouTube and Google Maps were spearheaded by team lead, out lesbian and engineer Ann Mei Chang.
After her departure from Google in 2012, Chang continued her work in tech as executive director of USAID’s Global Development Lab, where she led efforts to end poverty through science and tech, and bring the benefits of the internet to the global community. Currently, Chang is a Brookings Nonresident Fellow, providing executive leadership with a focus on global economy and development. Watch her TedxMidAtlantic speech on ending global poverty below.
The future is bright with technological possibility. While LGBTQ visibility is at an all-time high in media and entertainment, the sciences are catching up. It’s important to have representation at every level, keeping the concerns and unique needs of the LGBTQ community top of mind. As technology continues to grow exponentially and affect our lives in undeniable ways, it’s more important than ever to have brilliant LGBTQ minds working to expand our thinking and champion equality.
Luckily, they have a rich history of LGBTQ inventors to inspire them.