As many LGBTQ pioneers in tech were changing the tech world, they were also fighting for inclusion. Surrounded by societal stigmas and bias, they focused on technological innovations for the good of humanity. At the same time, they worked to overcome the prejudice and persecution that confronted the LGBTQ community. Some did it openly and vocally, and some worked behind the scenes to elevate and empower their community. Still others exhibited strength, quiet resolution and determination, making them powerful role models.
Tim Cook, for example, came out as gay in 2014, three years after he was named Apple's CEO. In an essay for Businessweek he wrote, "While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven't publicly acknowledged it, either, until now. So let me be clear: I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."
Ever the pragmatist, Cook also wrote that being gay had been "tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It's also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you're the CEO of Apple."
Adversity in the Pursuit of Diversity
Supercomputer pioneer Lynn Conway faced incredible adversity. She had worked at IBM for four years when she informed the company of her intention to transition from male to female — and was fired by the company. After completing her transition in 1968, she set out with a new name and identity to rebuild her career.
While it wasn't until the late 1990s that Conway felt comfortable telling her new friends and colleagues about her gender transition, she certainly had no regrets.
"When I made the decision to have a gender correction, everybody told me I was terrible, I was going to end up in an asylum someplace," she told ABC News. "But they were wrong. I've had a great life, I'm very happy and I've managed to do some productive, important work."
On the lighter side, author and industry veteran Ann Mei Chang said that being a lesbian in the tech sector had some benefits. Chang, who's worked at leading companies such as Apple, Google and Intuit, told Fortune that she often was "one of the guys."
"You diffuse the sexual tension thing," Chang said. "You are working with young and nerdy guys who aren't sure how to deal with women. It made it a lot easier."