Pride Month: Queer STEM Leaders to Celebrate
The U.S. celebrates Pride Month to commemorate the pivotal and historic 1969 Stonewall riots, which occurred in New York City after police raided a popular Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. Following the raid, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people protested in the streets in dispute. This proved to be a seminal moment in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement, sparking a series of protests that evolved over time into a wider, coordinated effort that now positively celebrates and recognizes the queer community across the nation each year.
Over the past century, many in the LGBTQIA+ population have overcome unimaginable barriers to achieve equality and establish success while facing immense discrimination. For that reason, Valkyrie would like to recognize and spotlight some of the brave and pioneering LGBTQIA+ scientists and activists who rose above stigma and oppression to make a dramatic impact in their field.
“Those who can imagine anything can create the impossible.”
Often revered as the forefather of modern computing, Alan Turing was a British mathematician, logician, and famed codebreaker in the 1930s and 1940s whose work is considered foundational to the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence. During World War II, Turing worked to crack the German’s previously unbreakable Enigma code and was credited for helping to bring an early end to the war. Having imagined the concept of a “Turing machine” that could solve well-defined tasks by applying an algorithm. As a gay man during a much less accepting era, Turing was unfortunately harassed and ultimately prosecuted by the police for his sexuality, which resulted in the removal of his security clearance, effectively ending his work in cryptography. Turing, who committed suicide at age 42, posthumously received a public apology and royal pardon from Queen Elizabeth II.
Our team celebrates Turing’s contributions to developing modern computing and artificial intelligence, without the groundwork he is remembered as a part mathematical genius, part martyr; a rare innovator who found himself at odds with the very culture his work would protect and advance.
"The stars don't look bigger, but they do look brighter."
Sally Ride, an American astronaut, and physicist made history by becoming the first American woman and youngest person ever to go to space in 1983 at only 32 years of age. After two flights, Ride went on to serve on panels for the committees investigating both the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters. Following her NASA career, Sally became a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego, and founded Sally Ride Science, a company that created science programs for elementary school girls. There was a third “first” in Ride’s career: after her death, Ride was also revealed to be the first known queer astronaut. Ride died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, but her legacy lived on: she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, was inducted into the LGBTQIA+ Legacy Walk in 2014, and was featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 2018. One of our scientists exclaimed that they had a poster of her on their wall growing up. Sally Ride was a hero and a legacy in her own field.
“I’m really not too bothered about dying. What’s frustrating is that there are so many things I won’t be able to work on. There are so many things I wanted to know.”
Ben Barres was an award-winning American neurobiologist that served as the chairman of the Stanford University neurobiology department from 2008 to 2016. Known for his groundbreaking work studying glial cells and the mechanisms behind their ability to generate new neurons, Barres helped to further the understanding of how the brain functions. Barres also notably became the first openly transgender scientist to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. After Barres transitioned in 1997 and experienced the different treatment he received as a man, he realized many of the barriers faced by women in science and subsequently became an outspoken champion for female, LGBTQIA+ and minority scientists. A passionate and beloved teacher and mentor, Barres died of pancreatic cancer in 2017 but left behind a legacy of innovation, inclusiveness, and equality in science. His legacy was so powerful that his trainees and colleagues stated that, “We will go to bat for each other just as Ben has done so many times for us—a promise we made to Ben that we all intend to keep…. Whatever he touched, he left better than when he found it.” A commitment all scientists are capable of living up to.
“I didn’t want to live a life without love.”
Edith Windsor was a gay rights activist whose work at IBM led to key programming and operating system implementations the company is still known for today. Following the divorce of her husband in 1963, Windsor moved from Philadelphia to New York City where she met and fell in love with Thea Spyer, a clinical psychologist from Amsterdam. Windsor experienced a huge financial burden after Spyer’s death in 2009, due to U.S. federal law failing to recognize their domestic partnership as a valid marriage. This prompted Windsor to file a lawsuit seeking surviving spousal benefits, and eventually lead the charge in the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case to overturn Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which originally defined the term spouse as the marriage between a man and woman. The Court determined Section 3 was unconstitutional, resulting in a historic decision to recognize same-sex marriages across the U.S. Not only was she one of the earliest known data scientists, but we admire her for being an activist fighting for recognition of marital rights for all, regardless of their sexual preference.
We at Valkyrie are proud to honor these and countless other scientists who made a mark on this world, recognized or not. We are committed to ensuring that opportunities within the fields of data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning remain accessible to all.