🏳️‍🌈 Extending our LGBTQ+ History Month celebrations

Mar 1 / Eloise Watts
Over the last month, we’ve been celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month, and some of the many inspirational LGBTQ+ figures in the tech industry. 

If you’ve missed our weekly profiles, head over to our Instagram or LinkedIn (after reading this please!) and check them out. I can pretty much guarantee that their stories will blow you away. You can find the links at the bottom of this post, or in the footer.

The month is now over, but we’ve decided - a month just isn’t enough. There are so many people, stats, historical figures, that we didn’t get a chance to talk about. So, we’re taking the time here to really extend LGBTQ+ History Month, and talk about the importance of diversity in tech; LGBTQ+ History Month; and why this means so much to us.

So, let’s discuss.

Ok, background: what is LGBTQ+ History Month?

In the UK, LGBTQ+ History Month was founded in 2004, by an organisation called Schools OUT. The first celebrations were held in February 2005, and it’s been celebrated every February since. 

The aim of LGBTQ+ History Month is to “promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public''. 

Schools OUT explains that LGBTQ+ History Month achieves this in a number of ways:
  • “Increasing the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT+) people, their history, lives and their experiences in the curriculum and culture of educational and other institutions, and the wider community
  • Raising awareness and advancing education on matters affecting the LGBT+ community
  • Working to make educational and other institutions safe spaces for all LGBT+ communities
  • Promoting the welfare of LGBT+ people, by ensuring that the education system recognises and enables LGBT+ people to achieve their full potential, so they contribute fully to society and lead fulfilled lives, thus benefiting society as a whole”.

So why is LGBTQ+ History Month so important to us at Command Shift?

Here at Command Shift, we’re so proud to have a large community of LGBTQ+ staff and students. Diversity is so important to us - we want everyone to have the chance to learn to code, and we want to build a safe environment for everyone. No one should be put off doing something because they fear discrimination. Anyone is welcome in tech, especially at Command Shift.

You may hear a lot from us about our community. And it’s true, we really are a big community at Command Shift. This means that we want to celebrate the backgrounds, and history of our members. So celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month is a big one for us.
An infographic showing the top ways that employers are increasing diversity

Ok, that makes sense. But what's the tech industry like for LGBTQ+ people nowadays?

Well, there’s the good and there’s the bad. In a nutshell, work is being done, in some cases more than other industries, but we aren’t done yet.

Similarly to many industries, there are a lot of amazing LGBT+ figures in tech, but there’s still not complete equality. This needs to change.

According to a report published in 2018 by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), over 30% of young LGBTQ+ people avoid careers in tech, because they’re scared that they’ll be discriminated against.

That’s really concerning. But, celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month in the tech sector is a big step in the right direction. By celebrating LGBTQ+ people, and learning more about LGBTQ+ history, we are educating more people, removing stigma and stereotypes. This creates a more educated and respectful industry - so no one needs to be scared anymore.

We, as an industry, need to be aware and celebrate our peers’ histories and experiences. We for one, love to celebrate, and have loved learning about all these incredible examples.

Howeverrrr… the tech industry isn’t all doom and gloom! (See I promised there were positives).

The Institute’s new findings (IET 2021 Skills and Demand in Industry Report) reported that a third of employers in the tech industry are making a conscious effort to increase the diversity of their tech workforces. This statistic has been rising since 2017, which suggests that this will continue to rise in the future. 

And there are many organisations set up to support LGBTQ+ people in tech: Lesbians Who Tech, Stonewall, Non-Binary in Tech, Out in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (oSTEM), to name a few. Plus, more and more companies are setting up channels and services for LGBTQ+ support internally. This shows that we’re becoming a more supportive and inclusive industry.

Bottom line - don’t let the stats scare you. If you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and want to join the tech industry, it’s all about finding the right company, whose values and morals match your own. Diversity and inclusion in tech is on the rise, and we are working to improve it. 

So, the event: want to see how we've been celebrating?

Over the last 4 weeks, we’ve chosen 4 inspiring LGBTQ+ tech figures to learn more about: Alan Turing, Edith Windsor, Jon “Maddog” Hall, and Audrey Tang. 

We’ve posted each of their amazing stories to our social channels, so definitely head over to check them out. But, we aren’t finished yet…

There are so many amazing people that we could’ve featured, so we’re adding to our lists here:

Tim Cook

Photograph of Tim Cook
Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple Inc. After finishing his degree, he joined IBM’s personal computer business, where he remained for 12 years. He then moved to other businesses, before he joined Apple in 1998. He describes his decision to join Apple similarly to throwing caution to the wind, saying that it was his gut that made him join the Apple team.

He joined Apple as senior vice president for worldwide operations, and was promoted to Lead Operations. As Steve Jobs grew increasingly unwell, Cook acted as Chief Executive - running many of the day-to-day tasks, whilst Jobs made all the big decisions. When Jobs resigned from the company in 2011, Cook became CEO. 

Although Tim Cook has always been open that he was gay with his colleagues, he kept his life very private. He did however support LGBT rights causes, and spoke out against Alabama’s (his home state’s) law. And in October 2014, the Alabama Academy of Honor inducted Cook - this is the highest honour the state awards.

On the 30th October, he wrote a post for Bloomberg Business, where he officially came out as gay to the world.

In the article, he explains how he greatly values his privacy, but “if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay, can help someone struggling come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, the it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy” (Tim Cook, Bloomberg Business, 2014).

On that day, Cook became the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to publicly come out as gay (Armando Correa, 24th October 2019). 

Lynn Conway

Portrait of Lynn Conway
If you’re in the tech sphere, you may have already heard of Lynn Conway. But, if you haven’t… you’re in for a treat. Her story is truly incredible.

Conway started her career at IBM in the 1960s. She worked on creating and designing a complex supercomputer, as part of the architectural team.

After finding out that gender reassignment surgery was now available, Conway took the opportunity. She had struggled with depression due to gender dysmorphia growing up, and was then prescribed hormones and counselling. This was the start of her journey to becoming a woman.

Before her transition, she was married and had children. Unfortunately, due to laws in place at the time, after transitioning, she wasn’t allowed to see them. And, although she had hoped to continue her job at IBM, upon learning of her intention to transition, IBM fired her in 1968.

Now Lynn Conway, she restarted her life, in what she describes as “stealth mode”.

It was during this time that Conway revolutionised chip making. Working at Xerox PARC, she founded “multiproject wafers” (MPW). This meant that you could stack multiple circuit designs onto one chip. This was a huge advancement to the chip-making industry, as it reduced costs, and was much more efficient. 

Now chip-making revolutionary, she worked with Ivan Sutherland to write a textbook in chip-making, called Introduction to VLSI Systems. This book would go on to become the standard textbook in almost 120 universities. She would go on to teach courses at MIT using this textbook as a base.

After restarting her life, no one knew of her previous experiences, until she found out that Mark Smotherman was investigating her life to publish an article about her. It was at this point that Conway began to come out to her friends and family, and on her website. The news broke in the early 2000s and her story quickly spread worldwide.

Now a transgender activist, Conway uses her website to publish transgender news, promote role models, publish information on gender reassignment surgery, amongst other key information. In 2009, Stonewall named Conway as one of “Stonewall 40 Trans Heroes”, on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

52 years after IBM fired Conway for being transgender, they apologised. They held a public event with Lynn and Diane Gherson (Senior VP of HR at IBM), named “Tech Trailblazer and Transgender Pioneer in Conversation with DIane Gherson”, and she was awarded the rare IBM Lifetime Achievement Award, to celebrate her “extraordinary technical achievements [that] helped define the modern computing industry. She paved the way for how we design and make computing chips today” (Dario Gil, IBM’s Director of Research).

Nearing the end of the month, and this post

So that’s why we love to celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month. We love hearing the incredible stories that people have, and the experiences that they have gone through. We love to hear how much the tech industry has advanced, and we love to hear what we are doing to further improve diversity in tech. I hope you’ve enjoyed celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month as much as we have, and I’ll subtly mention again… if you haven’t seen our profiles on Alan Turing, Edith Windsor, Jon Maddog Hall, and Audrey Tang, then I would absolutely recommend you go and check them out with the links below, because they are true inspirations with hugely powerful stories to match. 

And, if you are interested in learning to code, and starting a career in tech, then head over to our course page where you can find out more, or reach out to us and we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions. The tech industry is becoming more diverse by the day, and at Command Shift, we want to help keep that going.

Oh and just to let you know - you can join our Web Development Mastery course at any time. So if you’re ready to jumpstart your career into tech, subscribe here today. You could be a software developer before Halloween. We look forward to meeting you 🙂

Follow us on social, where you can find profiles on 4 other inspiring LGBTQ+ tech figures, as well as other exciting updates and features: