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LGBTQ+ History Month

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A&GS Celebrates: LGBTQ+ History Month

LGBTQ+ History Month text overlaying the pride flag

Founded in 1994 by the first openly gay public-school teacher in Missouri, Rodney Wilson, LGBTQ+ History Month is celebrated during the month of October in the United States.  The month of October was chosen by Wilson to commemorate the first and second LGBT marches on Washington, which took place in October of 1979 and 1987. The month also coincides with National Coming Out Day, October 11.

LGBTQ+ History Month is a time to learn about and celebrate the achievements of LGBTQ+ community members, in general, and specifically within the College. Stories from members of our community, as well as famous people in STEM, can be found on the A&GS DEI website.

LGBTQ+ individuals are under constant attack by laws, both proposed and enacted, in this state and across the country. Here in the College of A&GS, we are striving to make this a more diverse and inclusive space. We stand with and support the LGBTQ+ members of our A&GS community.

We encourage our community members to take time this month to learn more about LGBTQ+ history; more information can be found below.

As part of our programming for this month, we will be discussing sharing pronouns in the office, and reading a first-person narrative account of living with epilepsy during the Oct. 19th Common Read. We hope you will join us, and participate in this simple step toward creating a more aware and inclusive workplace.


To learn more, click the links below:

To celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, A&GS has organized several events and resources for LGBTQ+ people and others to engage with:

We hope you will join us in acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of LGBTQ+ people in A&GS and beyond.

LGBTQ+ History Month at the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. A LGBTQ+ Flag waves to the right of the text.

A&GS LGBTQ+ Stories

Lené Le Roux

Career/Education/Research Background:

I am a PhD candidate in DGES, specializing in Urban Geography. I have an undergraduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning and masters in Housing. I worked professionally in the urban sector for ten years before pursuing my doctorate. Currently working on the fieldwork component of my research project, I am based in my home country South Africa. I study spatial tensions that exist in contested urban areas, through a lens of place-making and postcolonial southern urban theory. I'm particularly interested how marginalized people negotiate their claim to shared space - by understanding what I call 'entanglements' that arise from multiple, relational but competing interests. My aspirations are to expand my urban research interests and teach in the academia once I graduate.

Personal Story:

I’m a non-gender-conforming bisexual womxn. Of course, I haven't always been so clear about how I understand myself, and I continue to change and wrestle with asserting my pronouns xe/xir/xirs. Not uncommon to the bi-community, I have an imposter (and shall I add 'imposer') syndrome. I began to understand my sexuality when I fell in love with a woman for the first time at age 27. I had always adored my girl-friends in school, but I didn't think it was anything more than platonic love and admiration for them. Having only known myself as heterosexual up until 27 I was amused at the unexpected shift in my love interest. And while I allowed myself to explore in this new love affair, I was also in denial. How I envisioned my future within a hetero-frame and how people began to perceive me was changing fast and sometimes quite troubling. It's problematic that in society people spend years accepting their gender and sexual identity. Especially when you are queer and there is no frame outside hetero norms, with little vocabulary to help you make sense of your thoughts and feelings, and no one to guide you through your authenticity. As a queer womxn I have struggled with normative patriarchal ideas around physical appearance, mannerisms, expectations to marry and have children and monogamy, gender-conforming language and battled against sexual harassment and assault. I find that implicit biases and internalized patriarchy and heteronormativity difficult to uproot and unlearn. But I am so grateful to my queer and feminist community for showing me the courage to express myself unapologetically.

Trey Lee, PhD Student, DGES

Career/Educational/Reseach Background:

“After completing a B.S. in Strategic Communications at Oklahoma State University, I went on to pursue an M.S. in Geographic Information Science & Technology at the University of Southern California. While at USC, I became fascinated with remote sensing in challenging environments and I became a scuba diver to simultaneously conquer my phobia of fish as well as work on an underwater 3D cave mapping project in Mexico. Before moving to Norman in 2019 to begin my PhD in Geography and Environmental Sustainability, I spent the year in Hawai’i completing my Divemaster certification and gaining more experience with scientific diving/underwater mapping and remote sensing techniques. I have since expanded my research interests in include development of XR software to handle cave navigation/survey, and I am also collaborating with Blue Zoo aquariums to conduct 3D scans of coral reefs for use in an XR educational platform I am building to inspire greater environmental conservation/sustainability practices.”

Trey Lee, PhD Student, DGES

Personal Story:

“Many people only hear about the negative consequences that can happen when coming out or openly identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but there is so much more to many of these stories that people don’t hear. I, like so many others within the community, came out to my family when I was 13 and was forced to undergo conversion therapy for 2 ½ years. During that time, I learned the importance of being honest with myself about who I am while I was stuck in situations where I had to act like a “normal” person to everyone else. After undergrad, I went into my first major job as a salaried employee and was fired after several months once my boss came across a picture with my arm around another guy on someone else’s social media page who was mutual friends with a coworker. It spread throughout the office within a day. Nobody thought I could be gay because I didn’t dress or act like the stereotype they knew. I quickly made it through several interviews with other companies that were ready to hire me, but they all immediately changed their minds after calling to verify my previous employment. My roommate at the time (also gay) convinced me to apply for grad school and did everything he could to push me to succeed. He even waived my rent so I could keep my other bills paid and focus on applications before the approaching deadlines. It was a type of love and support I’d never experienced before. I felt this same sense of camaraderie within DGES when I came to OU last year as a new PhD student. I’ve always felt weird or out of place around other students or even within the LGBTQ+ community, but I was fortunate enough to meet another LGBTQ+ student who also was a first year PhD in the same program. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure if we’d get along because of how different we are, but he was so enthusiastic and welcoming toward me even when I was having a bad day. I’m now proud to call him a friend, and he has saved the day more than a few times. I know that he, as well as other LGBTQ+ students and allies, will always offer help and advice when needed. Many of us may not be afforded the same familial support as others, but our community is a family in itself and more than makes up for that. We may not all get along perfectly, but there will always be solidarity within it. There were those times when I thought being LGBTQ+ made my life difficult or unbearable, but now I see that getting fired all those years ago was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I can finally say that I’m happy with exactly where I am in life.”

Elisa Murillo

Career/Education/Research Background:

Between 2013-2016, I attended the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) where I received my B.S. in Atmospheric Sciences. During my second year, I had the opportunity to participate in the National Weather Center Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program, which ended up being the single most pivotal experience in my undergraduate career! Since 2016, I’ve been a graduate student here in the School of Meteorology, where I am currently working towards my PhD after receiving my M.S. in 2018. My main research interests involve combining Radar & Satellite Meteorology with the Upper Troposphere and Lower Stratosphere (UTLS) to focus on severe storms that penetrate the tropopause. I’m very passionate about all things DEI and love getting involved in the nitty gritty details of these challenges! Currently, I serve on various Leadership and DEI committees within the college, university, and the American Meteorological Society.

Elisa Murillo

Personal Story:

I’ve had the immense privilege of having my family be supportive when I came out as pansexual during my last year at ULM. Even though I knew my sexuality going back to middle school, I only talked about it with close friends when I felt it was ‘relevant’. It was because of this mentality at the time that I only came out to my family when I was in my first same-gender relationship. Since then, I’ve grown so much in my LGBTQ+ identity and am proud of how my sexuality influences all facets of my life! Additionally, the intersectionality between being a pansexual Latina in a different-gender relationship has heavily influenced my experience in the LGBTQ+ community. While I’m privileged by the straight-passing nature of my relationship, I also acknowledge that this can sometimes result in me feeling invisible within LGBTQ+ community. These feelings can often be exaggerated by the minimal representation of LGBTQ+ people of color, particularly within the Latinx community, in higher education. Thankfully, I've had a wonderful and encouraging support network that has helped me navigate these experiences throughout my graduate career here and is made up of family members, students, faculty and staff throughout the college!

Mya Sears

Career/Education/Research Background:

Mya Sears is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Meteorology in OU’s School of Meteorology, with minors in mathematics and Spanish.  “I decided to attend the University of Oklahoma because I was intrigued by the research opportunities that were available for undergraduate students.  I’ve been able to explore some of those positions over the past couple of years!  I conducted undergraduate research with CIMMS/NSSL and wrote my Honors Thesis over polarimetric hail size algorithms for MRMS.  I also participated in the TORUS field project during the summer of 2019 and completed a Hollings internship with NCEI in 2020.

Personal Story:

“I’m very proud to an LGBTQ+ person in STEM!  I came out to my close friends in high school, but I was really able to embrace my identity after coming to OU.  I began volunteering at Second Wind Coffeehouse during my freshman year, where I was able to form a community with openly queer and supportive individuals for the first time.  The openness and confidence of my peers helped me to feel comfortable in my identity.  An abundance of encouragement from my closest friends gave me the courage to come out.  I want create communities that make everybody, especially other LGBTQ+ individuals, feel the same type of acceptance and support.

Quentin Thomas, Undergraduate Student, School of Meteorology

Career/Educational/Research Background:

After living in Wisconsin all my life and having experienced my share of weird weather, I was compelled to study meteorology in college during my sophomore year of high school.  After some poking around and extra reading, I was between UW-Madison, Penn State, the University of Kansas, and OU.  Having taken both a campus tour of OU and the National Weather Center during my junior year of high school, I had strong inclinations towards OU, particularly because of the opportunities presented by taking classes in the National Weather Center!  I applied to both KU and OU, but KU was essentially just a ‘safety net’ option.  Once I got accepted, I instantly committed to OU and have been a proud Sooner since the fall of 2019!  Currently, I am pursuing a meteorology major and a minor in hydrologic science, but the minor may be subject to change.

Personal Story:

If there is one thing that I would shout to the whole world, it is that asexual individuals are not ‘broken,’ that asexuality exists on a spectrum, and that our identities are just as valid as that of any other individual.  After hearing about ‘urges’ that would come about during puberty in middle school human development classes, I found myself wondering why I didn’t feel them for years.  It became even more confusing when I found myself attracted to very specific people since the concept of attraction was such an alien concept to me.  At times, I even got bullied both physically and emotionally because I didn’t think a particular person was attractive.  When I finally discovered asexuality, I found myself crying tears of joy since it gave me an answer to a question I had been having for such a long time.  These days, having a more sure definition of my sexuality and knowing how it relates to who I am makes me feel more confident in my everyday life.  While I want to make sure that anyone under the LGBTQ+ banner wants to feel accepted and comfortable, I especially want to reach out to any asexuals, questioning or not, to make sure that they know that they are valid and should embrace their asexuality with all their heart.

McKinsey Whitaker

Career/Education/Research Background:

McKinsey is a senior undergraduate student in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography.  She chose OU for their Meteorology program and began as a School of Meteorology student before switching majors to better fit her career interests—but she still has a huge passion for weather.  She is the 2020-2021 Secretary/Treasurer for the Oklahoma Weather Lab, marking her fifth year of involvement in the organization. For her capstone project, she is researching how severe weather disasters affect the mental health of public and professional civilians. Once McKinsey graduates from OU, she plans to attend Millersville University in Pennsylvania, where she will pursue a master’s degree in Emergency Management.

McKinsey Whitaker

Personal Story:

“My relationship with my sexuality has been a dynamic one throughout my life—one that was filled with many stages of struggling with self-acceptance, before finally reaching the point I am at now.  I couldn’t be prouder of myself and my identity.  I didn’t have much of a safe environment in high school; I grew up in a small, conservative town that didn’t openly support LGBTQ+ equality (as a whole).  It took me until I was already graduated from high school and a freshman at OU to come to terms with my sexuality, and thanks to the unending support and love from my parents and immediate family, I am so happy to be open about who I am.  It’s really boosted my involvement in LGBTQ+ activism in all parts of my life.  Just recently I became engaged to my fiancée of almost 2 years, and the future continues to get brighter for me and my identity.  I don’t just want to be another successful LGBTQ+ person in the weather/emergency management community, I will be.”

Career/Education/Research Background:

Jay received his Integrated Master's Degree in Meteorology and Climate (MMet) in 2017 from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.  He chose the University of Oklahoma for graduate school after taking part in the exchange program offered by OU and Reading's meteorology departments during the 2015-2016 academic year.  Jay enjoyed being on the OU campus and everything OU had to offer making it an easy decision to return to the University for graduate school.  He completed a Master's in Environmental Sustainability at OU in May of 2019 prior to starting his PhD studies.  Jay is currently pursuing a Geography PhD in OU's Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability.  (Excerpts taken from A&GS Spotlights, March 2020.)

Jay Wimhurst

Personal Story:

"I definitely have pride in my identity as an LGBTQ+ person.  After coming out at 16 years old, I was fortunate enough to meet many people like myself through youth groups and student organizations, without whom I probably wouldn't be so comfortable in my own skin almost 10 years later.  I am very grateful for those experiences, and my gratitude is certainly part of the reason why I have become so passionate about LGBTQ+ rights and giving back to the community.  Whether serving on the A&GS Diversity and Inclusivity Council, or using my platform as a drag performer for both entertainment and activism, being openly LGBTQ+ in every facet of my life is an integral part of who I am."

Stories of Famous LGBTQ+ People in STEM & Beyond

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, United States of America. NGA is proud to celebrate LGBTQ+ Visibility in the STEM community. "There is this notion in STEM that your work is the only thing that should matter... But that's not true, people produce the work." - Dr. Ron Buckmire. Image background contains various mathematics symbols, graphs, and equations.
(Image courtesy: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Twitter)

You may have heard that the tiny island nation of Grenada is best known for producing some of the best spices in the world (especially nutmeg), but you may not have heard that Grenada is also the birthplace of the happiest mathematician on the planet, Dr. Ron Buckmire.  

Buckmire was born in Grenville, Grenada, on May 21, 1968, but he didn’t live there long.  When he was two, his father moved the family to the US while he earned his doctoral degree at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst.  Nine years later, Buckmire’s dad decided to move the family back to the Caribbean; he didn’t want his kids to attend high school in the United States, where the education system wasn’t near as good as it was back home. 

The family settled in Barbados, which has a 98% literacy rate and one of the top ten best school systems in the world.  Buckmire attended Combermere High School, where he excelled.  He had long been interested in math, but now became fascinated with chess - and he quickly became very good at it.  By the time he was 18, Buckmire had earned the titles of US National Master, US Senior Master, and FIDE (International Chess Association) Master, and won the British Chess Championship.  He is still both nationally and internationally ranked.  You can see one of his most famous games online, in fact -- the Buckmire-Lawson match, where he beat an International Master in 1985, in just 14 moves.  Buckmire was only 17 at the time.

Dr. Ron Buckmire stands against a railing, with a majestic mountain landscape and cloudy sky as a background.

But math would remain Buckmire’s true passion.  Math was always exciting and challenging, and most of all - math was a lot of fun.  After graduating from high school, Buckmire attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), a private research institute in Troy, New York.  He writes about how excited he was to not only be studying his favorite subject, but to be paid to do it:

“When I was at RPI, I did undergraduate research in mathematics my first summer (I remember it involved exploring properties of hypergeometric functions). I could not believe that they would pay you to learn mathematics! And soon afterward I learned that they would pay you to graduate school too? I was like “And the catch is….?” I ended up getting all 3 of my degrees in Mathematics there in about 8 years in in upstate New York.”

He earned a Bachelor of Science (in only three years), a Master of Science, and PhD by 1994, all in mathematics, of course.  His doctoral dissertation was titled The Design of Shock-Free Transonic Slender Bodies  on transonic aerodynamic flow. 

It was during his time at RPI that Buckmire was first drawn to LGBTQ+ activism.  He became involved in several student organizations, including serving as president of the Rensselaer Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual Association.

In 1991, while a graduate student, Buckmire began the Queer Resources Directory, now the largest and oldest online resource for links and information on issues in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Buckmire was also active in LGBTQ+ outreach by radio.  He was a co-creator of a queer local radio station while at RPI, and later contributed to the national radio newsmagazine This Way Out.  And he organized a mailing list associated with LGBT meetups at the Joint Mathematics Meetings; this group later evolved into the professional LGBT Association Spectra.

Dr. Ron Buckmire speaks into a microphone.

After earning his PhD, Buckmire completed post-doctoral work at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He stayed on at Occidental, working his way up the academic ladder from assistant to associate professor, then department chair and finally full professor of mathematics, which he earned in 2014.  During this time, he also served as Program Director for the National Science Foundation (NSF), about which he said: 

“I am very proud that NSF has entrusted me with the responsibility of ultimately deciding what kinds of projects should be supported financially to improve undergraduate mathematics for all students nationwide. It is an awesome and exciting job that is quite fulfilling! I’m also very proud of all the students who have gone through my classes who ended up majoring in mathematics and after graduation from Occidental College decided to go into teaching K-12, which I think is one of the most important (and hardest) jobs out there.”

A headshot of Dr. Buckmire, smiling, in front of a blue background. L, Off, And, A.

Buckmire has authored several articles published in peer-reviewed journals like Numerical Methods for Partial Differential Equations (he’s a big fan of Numerical Methods and PDE), IMA Journal of Management Mathematics, Works and Days and the Albany Law Review.  His primary areas of research interest include mathematical modeling, applied mathematics, numerical analysis (specifically nonstandard finite-difference approximations of ordinary and partial differential equations), mathematics education, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.  He is also fascinated by applying mathematics to unusual phenomena, like creating a new model with a colleague for how movies make money.

Dr. Ron Buckmire stands in front of an airplane on a runway, surrounded by blue sky and cumulus clouds. Liat.

Throughout his career, Buckmire has generously donated his time to many professional organizations, e.g., the Committee on Minority Participation in Mathematics, the Human Resource Advisory Committee of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and the Diversity Advisory Committee of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).   He serves or has served on the Board of Directors for several community organizations as well, like the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the Center for Health Justice, and the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition (which he co-founded). Today, he focuses his activism on same-sex marriage, queer immigration, and international queer rights.  

Now a naturalized U.S. citizen (he considers himself an American of Afro-Caribbean descent who “is from California”), Buckmire lives in Los Angeles.  Since 2008, he has been married to Dean Elzinga, a retired opera singer who has a BS in physics and an MS in math and now works as a data science engineer.

Buckmire remains a full math professor at Occidental (he loves teaching as much as he loves math) and since 2018 has served as Associate Dean for Curricular Affairs and Director of the Core Programs at Occidental; he is the first person to hold this position.  Somehow, he still finds time to play tennis (he’s a huge fan) -- and to serve on the Board of Directors for the Los Angeles Tennis Association.

The list of Dr. Buckmire’s accomplishments would be very impressive for someone at the end of a career - but Dr. Buckmire is only 52!   It’s exciting to think about what lays ahead for this brilliant mathematician and activist.  He brings excitement to every project he touches.

Lynn Conway back at MIT in October 2008.
Lynn Conway back at MIT in October 2008.

In 1952, a US Army veteran named George Jorgenson went to Denmark for sex reassignment surgery; he returned as Christine Jorgenson.  “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty!” the New York Herald proclaimed.  While some people were horrified, most viewed Christine’s transition as a novelty.  She was charming and witty, but this sex-change business shouldn’t be taken seriously.

But to shy and lonely 14-year-old Lynn Conway, Christine Jorgenson was an inspiration.  Lynn was not known as Lynn then; she wouldn’t be able to use that name for another 14 years.  She was still called by her birth name - a boy’s name since Lynn had been born male.  Like Christine Jorgenson, Lynn knew that being in a male body was a mistake.  Until Christine’s revelation, Lynn had no hope of ever being the female she knew she was. 

Lynn was born on January 2, 1938 in White Plains, New York.  Three years later, the family welcomed Lynn’s younger brother.  As a child, Lynn became fascinated with radio, not only the broadcasts (especially those from the BBC during the war), but also the machine itself -- how did all those little glowing tubes transmit sound -- and from so far away?

Her father, a chemical engineer, gave Lynn The Wonder Book of Knowledge which explained where electricity came from, how radios operated -- and most fascinating for Lynn -- all about electrical engineering and the wonderful things it could lead to.  Lynn was hooked.

Lynn Conway (right) at seven, and her younger brother.
Lynn (right) at seven, and her younger brother.

But her new interest in engineering was tempered by a dark secret.  At a very young age, Lynn became aware that the male body she had been born into wasn’t the right fit.  Growing up for Lynn was a confusing and miserable time; her parents divorced when she was seven and there was literally no one she could talk to.  She became painfully shy and depressed.

Oddly, it was a social situation that started bringing Lynn out of her shell.  When she was ten, Lynn’s mother sent Lynn and her younger brother to a 10-week wilderness camp in upstate New York.  At first Lynn was terrified, but soon came to enjoy everything about the camp, where she learned to swim, ride, go boating, shoot a .22 rifle, and fish.  The camp inspired in Lynn a lifelong love of the outdoors. 

Lynn entered a “tomboy” phase after camp and was better able to cope with life - until puberty hit, leaving her in agony over her rapidly changing body, which was becoming decidedly more male in appearance.

It was at this time that Christine Jorgenson’s story became public, sparking hope in Lynn for her own future.  At school, Lynn scored very high on aptitude tests in math and science and started to get more attention from her teachers.  She excelled at her studies and especially enjoyed the thrill of creating something using math and physics.  At sixteen, she built a telescope and took a picture of the moon!  Lynn also became a bit more social, joining the band (she played trombone, and quite well), as well as the youth symphony orchestra. 

But there was still the dark secret.  As she grew older, the desire to become female became an overwhelming need.  After graduating from high school, she started at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) when she was only 17.  She did quite well the first few years, but a deep depression during her junior year after a failed first attempt to transition led to her dropping out of college in 1959.

Lynn spent the next two years traveling and camping, reconnecting with nature and finding herself.  In 1961, she returned to school, this time attending Columbia University.  She finished her bachelor’s degree in 1962 and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1963.

While finishing her master’s, Lynn worked part-time for a medical company repairing hearing aids.  It was there that she met a co-worker named “Sue,” who became smitten with the then-male Lynn.  Their relationship was awkward and strange from the beginning.  Somehow it led to an equally awkward and strange marriage which produced two daughters, whom both Lynn and Sue adored.

With a growing family, Lynn needed a good job -- which she found in 1964, when IBM-ACS (Advanced Computing Systems) invited her to join a special research team who were designing and building a powerful new supercomputer.   Lynn’s contribution to the project was the creation of Dynamic Instructional Scheduling (DIS), a now-classic technique for multiple out-of-order instruction issuance widely applied in high performance microprocessors today.  Before this revolutionary innovation, computers ran much slower, due to a “bottleneck” in instruction issuance that left functional units standing idle while they waited for stalled instructions.  With DIS, computers ran far more efficiently. 

Lynn would not be able to take credit for this remarkable achievement for another 30 years.

Dr. Harry Benjamin
Dr. Harry Benjamin

In 1966, the year after she created DIS, Lynn read The Transsexual Phenomenon by Dr. Harry Benjamin, a pioneering physician in gender reassignment surgery.  For the first time in her life, Lynn had hope that a true transition could take place.  She remembered that after a brief honeymoon with the press, the media had turned on Christine Jorgenson when it was discovered that during her initial transition, Christine had not received a vaginoplasty, leading the press to hound her as a “mutilated male” (Christine later had the surgery).  Dr. Benjamin described a complete transition, which included surgery and hormone therapy.  After decades of emotional suffering, Lynn knew she had finally found the answer she had been looking for.

Lynn’s wife was supportive (their marriage was far from traditional), but her wife’s conservative family found out and their response was not positive.  Lynn and Sue divorced (which was always part of the plan), but her wife’s family convinced the court to bar Lynn from any contact with her daughters.  She would not see them again until they were adults.

Lynn was also fired from her job at IBM despite her monumental achievement there.  Then, the few friends and colleagues she had left abandoned her.  She had no support system at all as she embarked on one of the biggest life-changes a person can go through. 

Lynn’s surgery was performed by Dr. Benjamin in Mexico in 1968.  When Lynn returned to the US, she decided that it would be best to live in “stealth mode.”  She knew full well the stigma a sex change brings; she had lost pretty much everything.  Many who transitioned from male to female could only find work as female impersonators or prostitutes because no one else would hire them.  They were too much of a distraction.  As an engineer, Lynn feared she would not be taken seriously - or fired again - if her secret came out. 

So, Lynn started her career over again, this time as Lynn Conway, and kept her past a secret.  Despite all the hardships she had experienced, this was a truly happy time for her.  The creative spark, which had been dormant, returned in full force and helped her embark on her new life with confidence.  Although she was not able to list IBM on her resume, it wasn’t long before she worked her way back up the career ladder.  She started out as an entry-level programmer, then worked for a few years at Memorex before she was recruited by Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).

Lynn at Xerox PARC, 1977
Lynn at Xerox PARC, 1977

At PARC, Lynn invented a system of modern VLSI (Very Large-Scale Integration) design methods, which had an enormous impact on applications and the cost of computers and digital systems.   She also conceived of and wrote the bulk of Introduction to VLSI Systems, one of most influential, best-selling textbooks in history, with her colleague Carver Mead, an engineer at Caltech.  Thousands of students have learned the craft of chip design from Lynn’s book and much of modern silicon chip design revolution is based on her work.

Lynn and Carver Mead were the recipients of Electronics magazine’s 1981 Achievement Award for their seminal textbook, an impressive honor in the industry.
Lynn and Carver Mead were the recipients of Electronics magazine’s 1981 Achievement Award for their seminal textbook, an impressive honor in the industry.

In 1985, Lynn was hired by the University of Michigan as Associate Dean of the College of Engineering.  She also began teaching electrical engineering and computer science as a full professor.  She was superb in the classroom, inspiring and encouraging thousands of students.

Lynn and Charlie
In 1987, she met her future husband Charlie (also an engineer), who shares her love of the outdoors. They've been together since 1988 and were married on Mackinac Island in 2002.

In 1999, Lynn retired from U of M with Emerita status.  She is a member of The National Academy of Engineers (the highest professional recognition an engineer can receive) and holds five patents. 

Lynn fully intended to remain in stealth mode in retirement; she was in a stable, loving relationship, had just finished a very successful career, and was looking forward to spending time on her 23-acre spread in rural Michigan. 

But 1999 was also the year that computer historians discovered Lynn’s past.  While researching the origin of DIS (the innovative procedure Lynn had created while at IBM), experts were shocked to discover that it wasn’t recent -- that it had in fact, been invented way back in 1965.  Further digging revealed that the inventor was Lynn, who was still living as a male then.

Lynn Conway in 2000
Lynn in 2000

Faced with the choice of being outed or outing herself, Lynn chose the latter, quietly coming out to friends and colleagues.  She was both surprised and grateful for their supportive response -- and thrilled to be able to finally be able to take credit for the revolutionary DIS technique she had developed while at IBM.

Lynn soon realized that she could provide hope and inspiration to the trans community all over the world and began to greatly expand her website with details and photos of her story (it’s been translated into 14 languages). 

In 2000, Lynn’s story was published in both Scientific American and The Los Angeles Times.  Since then, Lynn has also served as a consultant to high-tech firms regarding  equal opportunity hiring and employment protections for transgender and transsexual workers, including Apple, HP, Intel, Kodak, Lucent, NCR, Verizon Wireless, Xerox -- and (in a great twist) IBM.

Lynn Conway giving a presentation at Syracuse University in 2013. Lecture Overview.
Giving a presentation at Syracuse University in 2013.

Best of all, Lynn no longer had to live in stealth.  She was finally free to connect with family members she hadn’t seen in decades, especially her two now-grown daughters (who had been told nothing of Lynn’s transition; they always thought their father had just abandoned them).

Lynn Conway in 2015 at 77 years young.
Lynn in 2015 at 77 years young!

You can access Lynn’s personal website here:

but be prepared to spend time there, because once you start reading you won’t want to stop. 

There are a few quotes at the top of the webpage; this one from the late Steve Jobs perhaps best sums up Lynn’s philosophy:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life"

Hollywood, where are you?  We need a Lynn Conway biopic!

Sally Ride as an LA kid in the mid-1950s.
Sally Ride as an LA kid in the mid-1950s.

She didn’t set out to become famous or make history.  All Sally Ride wanted to do was “to soar into space, float around weightless inside the shuttle, look out at the heavens and gaze back at Earth.”  She fulfilled that dream, but in the process, Ride - astronaut, physicist, author, athlete, teacher, and by all accounts one of the nicest people on the planet - became very famous indeed and made quite a bit of history as well.

Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles.  Two years later, her only sibling Karen arrived.  Little Sally couldn’t quite pronounce her sister’s name, so she called her “Pear” and it morphed into “Bear,” which is what everyone started calling her.

Bear Ride writes,

“Our parents…encouraged us to study hard, to do our best and to be anything we wanted to be…(They) encouraged us to be curious, to keep our minds and hearts open and to respect all persons as children of God. Our parents taught us to explore, and we did. Sally studied science and I went to seminary. She became an astronaut and I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.”

Ride was also a nationally ranked tennis player in college.
Ride was also a nationally ranked tennis player in college.

Ride attended a private high school, Westlake School for Girls, where she excelled not only in math and science, but in English Literature.  She went on to earn bachelor’s degrees in physics and English in 1973 (her specialty was Shakespeare), a master’s degree in physics in 1975 and a PhD in astrophysics in 1978, all from Stanford. Her graduate work involved X-ray astronomy and free-electron lasers.  On the advice of her good friend Billie Jean King, Ride briefly considered abandoning her studies to become a professional tennis player (she was that good), but ultimately chose science over a sports career. 

During her final year at Stanford, Ride came across an ad from NASA in the student newspaper seeking women who were interested in becoming astronauts.  Stanford wasn’t the only university to run the ad; over 8,000 women from all over the country applied.  Only 35 made the cut; Ride was one of them. 

Ride worked for NASA for several years (specializing in the development of the “Canadarm” robot arm) before it was announced she would be the first female American astronaut to travel to space.  There was a media frenzy -- but the focus was entirely on the fact she was female, not on her scientific accomplishments.

Before her historic first space flight, Ride never lost her cool (she never lost her cool her entire life), and patiently endured cringe-worthy questions from the media like, “Will you wear a bra and make-up in space?”  “Will space affect your reproductive organs?”  “Do you cry on the job?”  Johnny Carson said that the flight would probably be delayed while Dr. Ride “found a purse to match her shoes.”

Dr. Ride sits in the aft flight deck mission specialist's seat during deorbit preperations, her face reflecting absolute joy.
Dr. Ride sits in the aft flight deck mission specialist's seat during deorbit preperations, her face reflecting absolute joy.

On June 18, 1983, the orbiter space shuttle Challenger was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida.  Ride made history that day as the first American woman in space (she was the third overall, after two female Soviet astronauts), the youngest American to travel in space at 32 years old, and the first LGBTQ+ astronaut in space (although that fact would not be known until after her death).  During the mission, Ride operated the crew’s robotic arm and managed the communication satellites.

The six-day mission was a success and the Challenger touched down on June 24.

The crew of the STS-7 space shuttle Challenger mission in 1983. Front row, left to right: Sally K. Ride (mission specialist), Robert L. Crippen (commander), and Frederick H. Hauck (pilot). Back row, left to right: John M. Fabian and Norman E. Thagard (mission specialists). Image via NASA.
The crew of the STS-7 space shuttle Challenger mission in 1983. Front row, left to right: Sally K. Ride (mission specialist), Robert L. Crippen (commander), and Frederick H. Hauck (pilot). Back row, left to right: John M. Fabian and Norman E. Thagard (mission specialists). Image via NASA.
A dream came true for Dr. Ride, as she floated in space aboard the Challenger.
A dream came true for Dr. Ride, as she floated in space aboard the Challenger.
Sally Ride

Ride would partake in another mission aboard Challenger in 1984. She was scheduled for a third, but it was cancelled when the spacecraft blew up shortly after take-off in January 1986, killing all seven crew members on board, including Christa McAuliffe, a civilian who was to have been the first teacher in space. Ride became a critical member of the official inquiries into the Challenger disaster, as well as the crash of Columbia in 2003.  She was the only person to serve on both panels.

Although NASA wanted her to stay, Ride had another goal -- teaching.  After retiring from the agency in 1987, Ride taught physics at UC-San Diego, and began to focus on her true passion -- inspiring kids to become involved in science.  She wrote six science books for children with her longtime business partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, and in 2001, the pair co-founded Sally Ride Science, a non-profit organization whose goal is to inspire young people, especially girls, to pursue careers in science and technology.

Ride taped several episodes of ‘Sesame Street’; here she is on the set with Grundetta.
Ride taped several episodes of ‘Sesame Street’; here she is on the set with Grundetta.

Her death on July 23, 2012, came as a shock.  She was only 61 years old.  But Ride was an intensely private person, and few knew she had been battling pancreatic cancer for the previous 17 months.  It wasn’t until her obituary was published that the public became aware that Ride and Tam O’Shaughnessey were much more than business partners; they were life partners and had been for the past 27 years. 

Ride (L) and O'Shaughnessy (R) at a 2008 American Library Association conference in Anaheim, California, discussing how the Earth’s climate is changing.
Ride (L) and O'Shaughnessy (R) at a 2008 American Library Association conference in Anaheim, California, discussing how the Earth’s climate is changing.

Many wondered why Ride remained silent about her sexual orientation.  Her sister Bear, herself a gay activist who’s been arrested for public protests, explains: 

“She just didn't talk much…If you read interviews from years and years back, you'll see that there was always a major frustration that she didn't comment much on 'how it feels to be the first American woman in space' — she just didn't think that way. She wanted to get the job done. Her personal feelings were just that: personal…Sally never hid her relationship with Tam…We consider Tam a member of our family.”

In 2018, the United States Post Office (USPS) released a stamp in Ride’s honor.  Sally K. Ride, Sally USA Ride, Forever, 2018.
In 2018, the United States Post Office (USPS) released a stamp in Ride’s honor.
Sally K. Ride, NASA, Barbie signature, Sally Ride astronaut, Inspiring Women tm Series.

And In 2019, Mattel released its new Inspiring Women Series Doll, this one honoring Sally Ride.  It was designed with the approval of Tam O’Shaughnessey.

Although the song Mustang Sally does indeed appear to be about Ride, with its rousing chorus of “Ride, Sally, Ride” it’s just a coincidence.  Mustang Sally was written in 1965 by bluesman Mack Rice, 18 years before Ride rode into space. Still, it must have been a huge thrill to hear your entire name sung in a classic song.

Ride always ended her talks to students with the advice to “Reach for the Stars,” which is exactly what she did.  Today, Sally Ride Science ( continues to inspire future generations of scientists, a lasting legacy from a true space pioneer.

Alan Turing as a child.
Alan Turing as a lad.

He was, without question, a genius; the father of modern computing, the mind behind cracking the ‘uncrackable’ Enigma Device, and the first to establish profound insights into artificial intelligence (AI).

Yet instead of earning respect and admiration, Alan Turing - who was also a bona-fide war hero - was arrested and prosecuted for being a gay man.  His enormous contributions to computer science, encryption, and the war effort received no official recognition until more than 50 years after his death. 

Alan Mathison Turing was born in London on June 23, 1912, the younger of two sons of a British diplomat and his wife, who had met while working in colonial India.  Shortly after Alan arrived, his parents returned to India -- but without their boys, who they left in the care of a friend. 

A lonely child, Turing found solace in school, especially in math and science. He earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree (both in math) from Cambridge University, and a doctoral degree (also in math) from Princeton in 1938.

Alan Turing, age 18
At 18, while a student at the Sherborne School in England, before he started at Cambridge.

Turing returned to England after earning his PhD and was promptly recruited by the government to work at Bletchley Park, a super top-secret code-breaking agency.  There, he was the major force behind breaking the Nazis’ infamous Enigma Device.

The Enigma Device was an encryption machine used to send code on the location of Allied ships in the North Atlantic so that the German subs patrolling those waters could destroy them.  The only way for Allied ships to avoid the deadly subs was if British cryptologists could decode the Germans’ messages.  It seemed hopeless, though.  The Enigma Device was said to be capable of generating 159 quintillion permutations, so the Nazis were confident they held the upper hand.  However, they did not. Alan Turing did, and he broke the code.  Solving the Enigma riddle greatly shortened the length of the war and saved thousands of lives. 

After the war, Turing remained a consultant at Bletchley, but went to work at Manchester University’s computing laboratory.  And after a brief engagement to a female friend and fellow codebreaker (which ended amicably), he began to recognize and explore his own homosexuality.

Alan Turing completing a long-distance race.
Turing was a dedicated long-distance runner.

In early 1952, Turing, then 39, began seeing 19-year-old Arnold Murray.  Shortly after, Turing’s house was broken into.  When the police arrived, both Turing and Murray were home.  The cops asked Turing who the young man was; Turing (who could have lied) told them that he and Murray were romantically involved.  

Both men were charged with "gross indecency" under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (England didn’t decriminalize homosexuality until 1967).  Turing was deemed a security risk and immediately fired from top-secret Bletchley.  In court, Murray was given probation, but Turing was given the choice of either prison or probation with one year of chemical castration (i.e., taking female hormones, thought to eliminate all sexual urges).  If he had taken the prison sentence, he would have lost his position at Manchester University as well, which meant no access to the only computing facilities in England at the time.

Turing (far right) and colleagues working on the UK’s Ferranti Mark I Computer in 1951.
Turing (far right) and colleagues working on the UK’s Ferranti Mark I Computer in 1951.

So, Turing opted for a year of chemical castration.  During this time, he was relentlessly hounded by many former colleagues and the press, his reputation shredded despite his accomplishments.  But according to Turing biographer Jack Copeland, Turing endured the physical and emotional abuse “with amused fortitude.”

A year after his sentence ended, on the morning of June 8, 1954, Turing’s housekeeper found him dead in his bed, a half-eaten apple lying beside him. It was later determined that he died the previous day, 16 days short of his 42nd birthday.

A coroner’s inquest quickly concluded that Turing had committed suicide by ingesting cyanide; the house smelled strongly of it.  The coroner noted that "In a man of his type (emphasis added), one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next."

It was believed that Turing covered the apple with cyanide; he had long had an obsession with the Snow White fairy tale, and some speculated that he had chosen to end his tortured life in the same way that Snow White was poisoned.

While there is no doubt that Turing died from cyanide poisoning, Copeland believes his death was accidental, not a suicide. 

Copeland points out that the minimal evidence presented at the 1954 inquest would not have been near enough to confirm a suicide verdict today.  Also, the apple thought to have been doused in poison was never tested.  Copeland says that it was Turing’s habit to eat an apple at bedtime, and he frequently didn’t finish it (by the way, Turing’s half-eaten apple did NOT inspire the Apple logo, as is sometimes claimed).

"Machines take me by surprise with great frequency." - Alan Turing

There was nothing indicating that Turing was depressed or in a suicidal mood in the days leading up to his death.  The court order to take the chemical castration drugs had ended a year earlier.  His friends reported him as being in a “cheerful” mood.  There was no suicide note, but there was a list of things to do found later his office desk, left there the day before he never returned.  His mother Ethel never bought the suicide verdict either.  Like Copeland, she always believed her son’s death was an accident, which it might very well have been. 

Turing was famous for conducting chemical experiments in his house, in a tiny room he called “the nightmare room.”  Cyanide was one of the chemicals he kept on hand and one he was known to work with.

For all his brilliance, Turing was extremely careless when it came to his experiments.  He nearly electrocuted himself once, and he was notorious for tasting chemicals to identify them.  Regarding his death, Copeland believes that Turing may have accidentally set his apple in a puddle of cyanide before eating it, or (more likely) he accidentally inhaled cyanide vapors from his bubbling experiment, which would have taken awhile to kill him. Copeland points out that the distribution of poison in Turing’s organs was more consistent with inhalation than with ingestion.

The Alan Turing Memorial in Machester, England.
The Alan Turing Memorial in Machester, England

The Imitation Game
(2014) introduced audiences to Turing’s genius, but it apparently missed the mark when it came to Turing’s sense of humor.  In the film he is portrayed as someone who never gets a joke, but in real life he was anything but.  He was eccentric and driven, but he still loved a good laugh.  We think he would have liked Blade Runner better than his onscreen bio, especially the movie’s Voight-Kampff machine, which is used to determine humans and replicants - and bears a close resemblance to Turing’s “Turing Test” which figures out if an AI can think like a human. 

It wasn’t until 2009 that the British government publicly apologized for their treatment of Turing, and even then, it took another four years for Queen Elizabeth II to grant him a royal pardon.  But as a sign the tide might finally be turning, The Bank of England recently announced that Alan Turing will be the on their new £50 note, expected to be in circulation by 2021.  Turing will be the first gay man to appear on British currency. 

Although the manner of his death will never be fully resolved, we are grateful the world had Alan Turing for 41 years and 11 months.  We only wish it could have been 41 years and 11 months longer than that.

LGBTQ+ Resources

OU's Gender + Equality Center offers a number of LGBTQ+ resources online, including a complete list of resources:

GEC LGBTQ+ Resource List

A&GS Social Media Accounts