Here are eight LGBTQ+ role models in STEM who have made a difference through their incredible work. We’ve also included places where you can find even more stories and profiles from LGBTQ+ STEM peeps to inspire your own study and career journey.
1. Sally Ride
Sally Ride was an astronaut and physicist. She joined NASA in 1978, and became the first American woman in space in 1983 (and the third woman in space overall). She is also the earliest space traveller to have been recognised as LGBTQ+. After Sally left NASA, she became professor of physics, primarily researching nonlinear optics and Thomson scattering.
“I never went into physics or the astronaut corps to become a role model. But after my first flight, it became clear to me that I was one. And I began to understand the importance of that to people. You can’t be what you can’t see.”
2. Lynn Conway
Lynn Conway is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer at the University of Michigan. She is known for revolutionising information technology by inventing new methods that greatly simplified the design and fabrication of complex microchips.
“My work paved the way for the modern microchips found in almost all high-technology systems, including computers, mobile phones, and the internet,” she says.
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3. Tim Cook
Say hello to the CEO of Apple! Tim took the reins of the great tech giant in 2011, previously serving as the chief operating officer under Steve Jobs. During his time as CEO, Tim has advocated for the political reformation of international and domestic surveillance, cybersecurity and environmental preservation. In 2014, Cook became the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to publicly come out as gay, saying, “Where I valued my privacy significantly, I felt that I was valuing it too far above what I could do for other people, so I wanted to tell everyone my truth.”
The best gift we can give young people is empowering them to be themselves. Honored to join forces with @RyanQualtrics and @DanReynolds to support the great work @encircle2gether does serving LGBTQ+ youth. Thanks @RobinRoberts for a wonderful conversation. https://t.co/6pigYU8XDE https://t.co/FFIdxFgkXA
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) February 25, 2021
4. Alan Turing
Alan was an OG triple threat – mathematician, computer scientist and theoretical biologist. He is most famous for cracking the Engima machine – a device used by the German military to encode strategic messages before and during World War II. Alan is also known as the father of theoretical computer science (as he formalised of the concepts of algorithm and computation) and artificial intelligence.
5. Jack Andraka
When Jack Andraka was 14 years old, he invented an inexpensive and fast method to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages. Mind-blowing! Check out the video below to find out more about the science behind his incredible invention.
On being a LGBTQ+ role model in STEM, Jack says, “I’m openly gay and one of my biggest hopes is that I can help inspire other LGBT youth to get involved in STEM. I didn’t have many role models [who are gay scientists] besides Alan Turing.”
6. Mary L. Gray
Mary L. Gray is a senior principal researcher at Microsoft Research, as well as a faculty associate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Her main focus is on how people’s everyday uses of technologies transform labour, identity, and human rights. Her works include In Your Face: Stories from the Lives of Queer Youth and Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America, which look at how young people in rural Southeast Appalachia use media to negotiate identity, local belonging, and connections to broader, imagined queer communities.
She also co-authored Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass, which is all about crowdsourcing and the impact of automation on on-demand economies.
7. Ann Mei Chang
Now here’s an impressive tech CV. Ann Mei Chang was the senior engineering director at Google for eight years, where she led the engineering team for mobile apps and worked on Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps. Before Google, she worked as an engineering manager at Apple.
Ann Mei also launched the Alliance for Affordable Internet (which is devoted to expand Internet access worldwide), worked as the executive director of USAID’S Global Development Lab (finding ways to end poverty through science and tech), and was the chief innovation officer for the 2020 presidential campaign for Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay US presidential candidate.
8. Adam Frew
Adam Frew is a plant-insect ecologist with a PhD from Western Sydney University, studying how silicon and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi alter plant-insect herbivore interactions. His post doc is a fellowship at Charles Sturt University in regional Australia, where he is continuing his research on how silicon alters plant-insect relationships and plant stress resistance.
On being a LGBTQ+ role model in STEM, Adam says, “I am starkly aware of the lack of LGBTQ+ role models and mentors within my own field. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It indicates that, like me, most of them don’t overtly disclose their sexual, or gender, identities, which is often a hidden characteristic. An important part of our lives is kept quiet. This only perpetuates the invisibility of the LGBTQ+ community in STEM, decreasing diversity and inclusion. It also reduces the likelihood of attracting and retaining talented young scientists, who may happen to be LBGTQ+.”
Looking for more incredible LGBTQ+ role models in STEM?
- Check out 500 Queer Scientists – a visibility campaign for LGBTQ+ people and their allies working in STEM and STEM-supporting jobs. Their goal is to ensure the next STEM generation has LGBTQ+ role models, help the current generation recognise they’re not alone, and create opportunities for community connections and greater visibility within STEM.
- Follow LGBTQ+ STEM on Twitter – their aim is to improve LGBTQ+ visibility in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
- Watch the Out Thinkers videos at Pride in STEM – Out Thinkers showcases the talent of LGBTQ+ people in STEM, providing a platform where people can talk about their work while truly being themselves.
Author: Louise Meers
Louise is the acting digital editor for Careers with STEM. She has a journalism degree from the University of Technology, Sydney and has spent over a decade writing for youth. She is passionate about inspiring young people to achieve their biggest goals.