October 2019: LGBT Heritage

Alan Lucille HartAlan Lucille Hart
October 4, 1890-July 1, 1962

Important Scientific Contribution: Developed the x-ray screening technique for early detection of tuberculosis, and was among the first doctors to document how tuberculosis spread via the circulatory system.

Dr. Hart completed his medical degree as a suppressed male at the University of Oregon, but the medical degree was issued in his female name. He attempted to work, presenting as a female, at a Philadelphia hospital, but the prospect of living life as a woman sent him into despair. He sought radical surgery to live as a man and was the first documented transgender male transition in the United States.

Neena B. SchwartzNeena B. Schwartz
December 10, 1926-April 15, 2018

Important Scientific Contribution: Discovered the hormone inhibin and its role in the regulation of ovulation, and founded the Association for Women in Science.

Neena Schwartz has been one of the most outspoken advocates for women in science. Schwartz led “a strictly compartmentalized life” for more than 50 years after recognizing that she was a lesbian in the 1940s. While she trailblazed female reproductive science and fought for equality for all women in science, she worried that sharing her sexuality would ruin her reputation and silence her voice. “But if nobody asks you, and you never tell, your sexuality becomes like this elephant in the room.” (BoingBoing, 2010) In 2010, she publicly declared her sexuality in her memoir, A Lab of My Own.

Christopher J. BannochieChristopher J. Bannochie

Important Scientific Contribution: Developed multiple processes to characterize and immobilize high- and low-level nuclear waste streams

Chris Bannochie has been an openly gay chemist for the past 20 years, but has struggled with being invisible or being treated differently in the workplace because of his sexuality. He believes that “the community needs to continue to mature in its attitudes and acknowledge that LGBTQ chemists exist and that they cannot do their best chemistry while the attitude persists that being LGBTQ has nothing to do with good chemistry – this is the same attitude that has held women back within the chemistry community for many years.” (American Chemical Society, 2019) He founded the Gay and Transgender Chemists and Allies subdivision of ACS in 2010.

Lee PennLee Penn

Important Scientific Contribution: Characterizes the link between physical properties and chemical reactivity of environmentally important natural and synthetic nanoparticles, especially iron oxide nanoparticles.

Lee Penn is not only a talented environmental chemist with a robust research program, but also an enthusiastic and well-loved teacher and advocate for STEM education. With a natural charisma and a welcoming attitude, Penn and research students have developed a Microscopy Camp for middle and high school students and teachers. An award-winning scientist and teachers, Penn is most proud of the awards received for advocacy for the LGBT community.

Alan TuringAlan Turing
June 23, 1912-June 7, 1954

Important Scientific Contribution: Developed the Turing machine, considered to be the first model of a computer program; widely considered to be the founder of theoretical computer science and AI.

Alan Turing had a strong interest in science from a very early age, and showed remarkable capability in physics and mathematics. Turing first expressed his homosexuality at 16 years old, but did not immerse himself in the gay community, although he was never secretive about his sexuality. He became open about his homosexuality upon his return to Cambridge in 1947, and moved to Manchester University in 1948. He was arrested for homosexual acts in 1952, and chose chemical castration over prison as his punishment. He died by suicide just shy of his 42nd birthday.

Lynn ConwayLynn Conway

Important Scientific Contribution: Developed the Dynamic Instruction Scheduling (DIS) to effectively speed computer information processing, and created the VLSI systems for microelectronics chip design.

Lynn Conway overcame many obstacles to become a legend of electrical engineering and computer science. As a child, Lynn’s parents were horrified when their son wanted to wear dresses, and felt that withholding affection would fix her “affliction.” She was fired from IBM when she sought sex reassignment surgery. She went abroad for the surgery and returned to the U.S. without her past accomplishments, which she wiped out completely and lived her life in “stealth mode,” as she describes it. When computer historians discovered Lynn’s early work as Robert Conway, she decided to go public with her past to advocate for transsexual acceptance.

Allan CoxAllan Cox
December 17, 1926-January 27, 1987

Important Scientific Contribution: Discovered the geomagnetic reversals on the ocean floor that help form our current understanding of plate tectonics.

Allan Cox intended to be a chemist, but a summer job in Alaska shifted his interests to geology. Cox and his geology colleagues at Berkeley were among the first to consider continental drift a viable theory. When he began his work on rock magnetism as a geophysicist, he was unaware that this work would be seminal in the development of plate tectonics theory. He was also a celebrated teacher and administrator, advancing to Dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford. Described as a “lifelong bachelor,” Cox was not open about his homosexuality. His death was originally ruled a tragic accident, but was later suggested to be suicide.

Lisa GraumlichLisa Graumlich

Important Scientific Contribution: Pioneered the use of tree-ring data (dendrochronology) to determine long-term climate information, and has testified before Congress on climate change impacts and long-term climate variability.

Lisa Graumlich is the Dean of the College of the Environment at the University of Washington. A geographer and botanist, she has been an advocate for studying climate change and its impact on the ecosystem. As a new assistant professor, she was advised that “it’s ok to be gay – just don’t tell anyone.” But Graumlich says that “being silent never really makes you feel safe.” She says that, “in owning my full identity, I released a torrent of energy that propelled my scientific career and fueled an even more adventurous personal life.” (U. of Washington, 2018) As Dean, she has worked tirelessly for inclusion and equity of all, including LGBT students and faculty.

Nate SilverNate Silver

Important Scientific Contribution: Developed systems for forecasting the performance and career development of Major League Baseball players and predicting outcomes of political elections; named one of the World’s Most Influential People by Time magazine in 2009.

Nate Silver is no stranger to criticism, both in his personal and professional life. As a statistician, he has criticized the polling techniques widely used in political predictions, and has received his share of criticism for lack of experience in the political process. As an openly gay man, he says that he always felt like an outsider. “If you grow up gay…, then from the get-go, you are saying that there are things that the majority of society believes that I don’t believe.” (The Guardian, 2012) Silver uses statistics to predict the success of LGBT legislation in his blog, FiveThirtyEight.

Sally RideSally Ride
May 26, 1951-July 23, 2012

Important Scientific Contribution: First American woman in space, and youngest American astronaut to travel to space; first known LGBT astronaut.

Sally Ride was an astronaut and an accomplished astrophysicist studying the interaction of x-rays with the instellar medium. Sally Ride was on the commission to investigate the Challenger disaster, and provided key information about O-rings that led to the identification of the explosion. After her career at NASA, she became a physics professor, developed public outreach programs for middle school students, and co-wrote seven children’s book about space. Ride’s homosexuality was revealed in her obituary by the company she and her partner founded.

Martin Wen-Yu LoMartin Wen-Yu Lo

Important Scientific Contribution: Discovered the Interplanetary SuperHighway (IPS) that are inferred to play a key role in the development of life in our Solar System, and provide low-energy orbits for interplanetary missions.

Martin Lo is a mathematician and research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His discovery of the Interplanetary SuperHighway allows NASA missions to optimize flight paths and save fuel on interplanetary missions. In 2012, Lo won the GLBT Scientist of the Year Award from that National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals for his work. Of his work as a mathematician he says, “I believe we are standing on the cusp of a new and exciting paradigm shift or sea change in how we do engineering. The new combination of modern mathematical theory with advanced computational tools is going to revolutionize the space industry and engineering in general.”

Nergis MavalvalaNergis Mavalvala

Important Scientific Contribution: Part of the team that first detected gravitational waves; pioneered research to generate squeezed quantum states of light.

Nergis Mavalvala immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan to study physics. Her thesis work was incorporated into the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) that first observed gravitational waves in 2016. Mavalvala credits good mentoring for her success as a physicist, and has become a role model for LGBT students and colleagues. In a speech at Out to Innovate, Mavalvala shared that she was not aware of her sexual orientation until her early twenties when she fell in love. As an immigrant, person of color, and lesbian, Mavalvala considers herself an outsider, but says she likes her outsider status. “You are less constrained by the rules,” she claims. (Science, 2012)