LGBTQ+ Role Models in STEM - UTC Leeds

1st June 2021

June is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride in commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in America. At UTC Leeds we are proud of our diverse and inclusive community and strongly believe in celebrating our differences.

This year, to celebrate Pride Month, we are highlighting LGBTQ+ Role Models through STEM history.

Alan Turing (1912-1954): Cryptanalyst

Alan Turing was an English mathematician and cryptanalyst who was highly influential in fields such as computer science. Turing is most well known for his work on breaking the German Enigma code during WWII. He worked for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, devising techniques for breaking cyphers more quickly. This work is credited for playing a crucial role in the war effort.

Sadly, ‘homosexual acts’ were illegal in the UK until 1967 and Turing was arrested in 1952 for his sexuality. He was also stripped of his security clearance and his job as a consultant for GCHQ and was subjected to hormonal injections. After persistent public campaigns, Turing was given an official pardon by Queen Elizabeth in 2014.

Sally Ride (1951-2012): Astronaut

Sally Ride was an American astronaut and physicist. She joined NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman in space in 1983. She also remains the youngest American astronaut to have travelled to space, having done so at the age of 32.

It was later revealed that Ride was also the first (known) member of the LGBTQ+ community to have been an astronaut and to have travelled to space. Though Ride was married to fellow astronaut Steven Hawley at the time of her space travel, it later came to light that she had been in an almost 30-year long relationship with a woman (Tam O’Shaughnessy), who had been a childhood friend.

Lynn Conway (1938-Present): Computer Scientist

Lynn Conway is an extremely influential computer scientist. She is best known for her work for IBM where she invented new methods of designing and manufacturing complex microchips. This work changed the face of the industry, triggering a wave of influential tech start-ups in the 1980s and 1990s.

Conway is also a figurehead for transgender activism. From the 1970s to the 1990s she was thought to be breaking gender barriers in computer science as a woman. However, in 1999 she publicly came out as a trans woman, revealing that she had broken far greater barriers in her career. Since then, she has campaigned to expand and protect transgender rights and worked to support individuals through their own gender transitions.

David K. Smith (1971-Present): Nanochemist

David K. Smith is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of York. Smith’s research is primarily focused on nanomaterials (those sized between 1 and 100 nanometres) and their practical applications in biomaterials and molecular electronics.

As well as his own research, Smith is known for his education and public outreach activities, including a highly popular YouTube channel (ProfessorDaveatYork) and Twitter account (professor_dave). He has been described as “one of the most visible out gay scientists” and has written articles on the importance of LGBTQ+ visibility in STEM.

Nergis Mavalvala (1968-Present): Astrophysicist

Nergis Mavalvala is a Professor of Astrophysics at MIT. She is best known for her work on detecting gravitational waves in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) project. This work confirmed one of the predictions of Einstein’s 1915 theory of relativity.

Mavalvala describes herself as an “out, queer person of colour” and is often asked questions around her work, gender, sexuality and Pakistani upbringing. In an interview with Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, she stated, “Anybody should be able to succeed – whether you’re a woman, a religious minority or whether you’re gay. It just doesn’t matter.”

At UTC Leeds, we have a vastly diverse community with a common love of STEM and the drive to work hard and succeed. Through our core values and community focus, we continue to celebrate diversity and inclusion for all.

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