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Queer scientists in the spotlight

Some of the best and brightest scientists have been queer.

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I’m a nerd. Its not really complicated. My book shelf has a shameful number of science education books on it, I love every nerdy TV show and movie you’ve probably heard of and, the most compelling evidence yet, I decided to pursue a science degree. However, I wasn’t always sure that was something I wanted to do. One of the main reasons I didn’t want to do a science degree was I was scared that, as a queer person, science wouldn’t be welcoming for me.

Take a minute and think of some famous scientists, a few probably come to mind quite quickly. People like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, etc. However, pretty much the only queer scientists most people know Alan Turing, a man who was chemically castrated by the British government for being gay.So you can why I was nervous about entering science.

My aim for this article, therefore, is to introduce everyone to some awesome queer scientists and STEM professionals, and to try and shift the heteronormative and homogenous image of science. Even if its only six people at a time.

Sally Ride

Sally Ride is an America physicist and Astronaut who was born in 1951. She grew up in Los Angeles and earned her Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees from Stanford University. Sally joined NASA in 1978 and flew in the space shuttle Challenger in 1983, making her the first American woman in space (she was preceded by two soviet women). She flew again in 1984, also in Challenger giving her a total of over 300 hours in space. She is also the first known LGBTQIA+ astronaut.

After NASA Sally worked for Stanford university and was a Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego. Her partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, was also a professor there, although they had met when they were much younger.

Sally unfortunately passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2012.

Lynn Conway

Lynn Conway is an American computer scientist and Trans rights activist. Lynn grew up in White Plains New York and attend MIT and Columbia University earning Bachelors and Masters level degrees.

She worked for IBM from 1964-1968 before being fired because of her intention to transition. However, she still went on to have a remarkable career in computer science with her research helping to revolutionise microchip design.

She became a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan in 1985 and retired from that role in 1998 as professor emerita.

Since 2000 when she self-published her story of transition, Lynn has been a remarkable activist for Trans rights. She has advocated for transgender people’s rights for equal opportunities in STEM fields and in 2009, she was named a “Stonewall 40 Trans Hero”. She has also been featured by Time Magazine as one of “21 Transgender People who Influenced American Culture.”

Greg Brown and Mitch Moffit

Both born in 1988, the couple met while studying biological science at the University of Guelph. Since 2012 they have run an incredibly influential science education channel called ASAP Science, which is there to provide “Your weekly dose of fun and interesting science.”

In June 2014, the couple released a video titled ‘Coming Out Twice’ where they told their audience of their relationship after receiving a large number of homophobic comments. Another reason the couple decided to talk about their relationship, is due to the lack of LGBTQIA+ visibility in STEM fields, and how they wanted to try and help change that.

The channel has an impressive seven and half million subscribers and nearly one billion total views and their videos range all of different scientific areas of inquiry and feature videos such as, “Humans in 1000 years” and “Where do texts go?”

Ben Barres

Barres was born in 1954 and is an American neurobiologist. He grew up in West Orange, New Jersey and obtained his Bachelor of Science in Biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his medical degree from Dartmouth medical school, and a doctorate in Neurobiology from Harvard University.

His research has focused mainly on interactions between neurons and glial cells and he has authored or co-authored over one-hundred and sixty publications. He is a co-founder of a company which provides drugs to block neurodegeneration of Alzheimer’s disease. He has also released publications detailing sexism within science fields.

In 2013 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and became their first openly transgender member.

Ben passed away from pancreatic cancer on 27th December 2017.

Audrey Tang

Born in April 1981, Audrey is a Taiwanese software programmer. She dropped out of high school at 14 and by age 19, was in California working in software companies and as an entrepreneur.

Most of Tang’s contributions to software belong in free software and open source efforts. She is best known for starting and leading the Pugs project. She has also helped to create traditional Chinese translations for open-sourced-related books.

Tang is the youngest minister without portfolio in Taiwanese history, having been named so in August 2016. In October of the same year she was given the office as “Digital minister”. She is the first transgender official to hold a top executive cabinet position in Taiwan.

This article appeared in the autonomous queer edition, Queer Honi 2018.