LGBTQ+ Americans whose work benefited the nation

Here are some influential people who are LGBTQ+ and whose work has a positive impact at the national level and beyond. Not an exhaustive list. A big thank you to the community members who helped with this list.

Dr. Alan L. Hart, pioneer in tuberculosis treatment and patient advocacy

This American doctor who was a transgender man played a key role in reducing the death toll from tuberculosis in the 1920s and 1930s.

  • Dr Hart was Director of Radiology at Tacoma General Hospital in 1928, a time when tuberculosis was one of the biggest health threats in the U.S. 
  • He pioneered the use of X-rays to detect early infections in asymptomatic patients. 
  • Dr Alan Hart documented the critical role that quarantine played in stopping the spread of TB. 
  • A passionate health advocate, Dr Hart traveled around the nation raising money to support financially-challenged TB patients and fund research. 

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Bayard Rustin, civil rights organizer

This American hero who was openly gay played a key role in paving the way for anti-discrimination legislation that protects all Americans, straight or gay.

  • A lifelong activist, Rustin taught non-violent organizing to Dr. Martin Luther King.
  • Bayard Rustin mentored labor leader A. Philip Randolph, with whom he organized to desegregate the armed forces and end employment discrimination.
  • Bayard Rustin helped to protect the properties of Americans of Japanese descent who were imprisoned in internment camps during WWII.
  • Bayard Rustin was the organizing genius behind the scenes of 1963 March on Washington, which paved the way for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
  • After that, Rustin did pioneering work in the movement to desegregate interstate public transit.

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Lynn Conway, computer science pioneer

Lynn Conway invented generalized dynamic instruction handling, a performance improving methodology used by most computer processors while working at IBM in the 1960s.

  • After experiencing gender dysphoria as a child, Conway began her gender transition as an adult in 1968.  
  • IBM fired her after she announced her plans to transition. They apologized for the wrongful termination 52 years later
  • While working at Xerox PARC in the 1970s, Conway invented the “multiproject wafers” (MPW) technology that decreased the costs of chip production.
  • Conway co-authored a pioneering text on chip design with Ivan Sutherland and Carver Mead of Caltech. Their work quickly became a standard textbook used in nearly 120 universities by 1983.
  • Lynn Conway went on to win many awards and honors for her innovations. 

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Sally Ride, first American woman in space

Sally Ride, an American physicist who was bisexual, became the youngest American astronaut in space in 1983. The educational organization that she founded, Sally Ride Science, now run by UCSD, continues to promote K-12 STEM literacy for new generations of American children.

  • Sally Ride was an advocate for diversity in science education. Despite her intensely private nature, she appeared on Sesame Street after her first space flight to serve as an inspiration to children.
  • After NASA, Ride became a professor of physics at UCSD.
  • In  2001, Sally Ride founded Sally Ride Science, a science education company, with her life partner Tam Elizabeth O’Shaughnessy and three others.
  • After Ride’s death in 2012, her partner Tam O’Shaughnessy received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on her behalf in 2013.

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Jon “maddog” Hall, board chair of the Linux Professional Institute

This American computer programmer heads the LPI, a non-profit which offers certifications and educational support for users of Linux, one of the most popular operating systems in the world.

  • To honor the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing’s birthday in 2012, Jon Hall came out as gay in Linux Magazine at the age of 61 and called upon his readers to walk in his shoes and to do better for their family members who are LGBTQ+..
  • Alan Turing was a highly influential  British mathematician regarded as the parent of theoretical computer science. During WWII Turing played a crucial role in helping the Allies defeat the Axis powers. After the war, Turing was driven to suicide following his prosecution for homosexual acts.
  • Jon Hall reminded the readers of the injustice inflicted upon Turing and spoke of the reasons behind his own coming out: “closeted homosexuals allow others to think we do not exist, or exist in fewer numbers than we do, or we do not exist in ‘their back yard’, all of which allows them to believe we do not exist, or think of us as monsters.  It is a lot harder to hate LGBT people in general when you have a son or daughter, uncle or aunt, next door neighbor or friend who is LGBT.”

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And more…

Thanks to the members of Eastside LGBTQIA Alliance for contributing to this list.