Inspiring LGBTQ+ Figures in STEM | Pride Month 2022June 21, 2022
Happy Pride Month! We love to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community all year long, but especially during June, we take time to reflect on some particularly influential LGBTQ+ heroes in the STEM industry. The individuals discussed in this blog have overcome obstacles and adversity in their lives in order to help make the world a better place for others through innovations in science and technology. We are honored to share these small glimpses into their stories.
1. Mark Harrington
A passionate activist and a scientist in his own right, Mark Harrington became a central figure in studies researching treatment for AIDS. While navigating the struggles of living as an HIV positive gay man himself, Harrington worked with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACTUP) to analyze the biology of HIV, helping to create drug-approved treatments for the disease. According to researcher Elizabeth Stivison of asbmb.org, “Members of [ACTUP] attended and spoke at conferences with scientists… Harrington even delivered a speech in which he showed slides of his own infected lymph nodes to illustrate what he thought key areas of research needed to be and what the shortfalls of current research on animals and lab strains of HIV were.” Thanks to Harrington, the Treatment Action Group was founded, and AIDS treatment continues to improve today.
2. Jack Andraka
25 year old Marylander Jack Andraka made his mark in medical history when he was just a high school sophomore, inventing a cheap, easy to use device that could detect early stages of pancreatic, and later ovarian and lung, cancer. The device won him the top prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, as well as the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award.
Prior to entering high school, Andraka, faced severe bullying and ostracizing from classmates due to being gay. In an interview with Ditchthelabel.org, he recalls his challenging adolescence and how his peers' treatment caused him so much anguish that it nearly drove him to suicide at one point.
Andraka, determined to not let the bullies win, poured himself into his scientific research as a mental escape, and by the time he reached high school, he had a wealth of knowledge that led him to the development of his revolutionary medical device.
3. Alan Turing
British cryptographer Alan Turing was a key player in helping the Allied forces rise to victory over the genocidal Nazis during the grim and unrelenting battles of World War II. He was able to develop an electro-mechanical device, known as “The Bombe,” that could decipher German Enigma-machine-encrypted messages, revealing essential information that gave the Allies a distinct advantage in the war.
Reporter Jiordan Castle in a Topcoder.com article notes that, “The Bombe was used from the summer of 1940 onward, repeatedly breaking messages for the British and ultimately giving the Allies the advantage they needed to win the war in Europe… Having helped shorten the war by an estimated two to four years, historians believe Turing saved 14 million to 21 million lives.”
4. Lynn Conway
A dedicated and brilliant computer scientist and electrical engineer, transwoman Lynn Conway helped develop the first superscalar computer, increasing the speed by which the machines could react to and execute inputs. Without her work, modern laptops and computers could not operate at the near instant speed we’ve grown accustomed to. However, IBM fired her when she began the process of transitioning.
The Topcoder article states, “In an interview, Conway said, ‘When I made the decision to have a gender-correction, everybody told me I was terrible, I was going to end up dead or in an asylum someplace. But they were wrong. I’ve had a great life, I’m very happy, and I’ve managed to do some productive, important work.’”
Conway was able to rebuild her career after her firing, reclaiming her accomplishments with time and continuing to make strides for computer technology.
5. Jemma Redmond
Born intersex and infertile, Jemma Redmond worked to create functional, easily-produced 3D-printed organs in hopes to one day print functional female reproductive organs for herself. Acquiring her master’s degree in nanobioscience at University College Dublin, Redmond developed her first self-made bioprinter at home, conducting research to create suitable human bone and organ replacements from 3D printers. With the support of her partner, Kay Cairns, Redmond was able to set up a base for potential sustainable, widespread 3D bioprinting in the future.
An article from cen.acs.org explains, “Redmond served as [start up company] Ourobotics’ CEO, and under her leadership, the company developed the first 3D printer capable of using 10 different biomaterials at once. She was also a firm advocate for affordable and open science, and Ourobotics’ second 3D printer was entirely open source—and an order of magnitude cheaper than the first design.”
LGBTQ+ people have contributed to the growth and evolution of the STEM industry for far longer than many people may realize, and it's important to share the stories of those who prevailed in the face of adversity. These inspiring individuals are just a small handful of members from the brilliant and vibrant LGBTQ+ community that shapes our society. This Pride Month, challenge yourself to discover more about the many science-driven LGBTQ+ people who have influenced the world as we strive to make science and technology a safe and inclusive place for all.
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