The modern, computer-using world owes Lynn Conway a debt of gratitude: the highly accomplished electrical engineer and computer scientist pioneered computer processors to be far faster and more efficient. However, Lynn Conway survived an era where being transgender meant the end of your career, family, and social circle.
During Conway’s employment with IBM, she took the step to undergo gender-affirming surgery. IBM not only refused her medical leave but fired her. However, Conway went on to transition, and she kept it from her colleagues and friends for decades. Conway has since gone on to be a champion for transgender rights.
American screenwriter, playwright, and novelist Larry Kramer took it upon himself to publicize the AIDS crisis that was sweeping across the United States throughout the eighties. The vehement activist, a gay man himself, stated that he grew increasingly incensed at the “bureaucratic paralysis” that was preventing a national health intervention from the government.
Kramer believed there was an unconcern toward gay men, and the Department of Health was merely ignoring the pandemic. In response, Kramer founded “Gay Men's Health Crisis,” a network that assisted people living with HIV. Kramer’s efforts are acknowledged as the government's attitude towards the crisis is changing.
Danish artist Lili Elbe made history as one of the earliest surgically transitioned women. Lili Elbe spent her early years as Einar Magnus Wegener and established herself as a prominent painter under this name. Elbe would, however, dress as a woman for specific events and introduce herself as the sister of Einar.
Gender reassignment surgery, although highly radical and far from perfect at the time, was an option, and Elbe underwent the transition over a two-year period. Tragedy struck when an infection set in after Elbe had a uterus implanted. The young Elbe passed from septic shock at the age of 48.
Troy Perry, the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, acknowledged himself as a gay man. Still, the piously devoted church member was advised to marry a woman and “pray” to resolve himself of his sin. This led to a very predictable divorce and an attempt at taking his own life. Thankfully, the attempt failed, and Perry resolved to create a safe space for Christian LGBTQ+ to worship.
What started as a group of nine people in a living room flourished to over one thousand members in just under three years.
Texan-born Michael Sam was the first American football player to openly come out as a gay man. The celebrated sportsman stated that coming out was a natural and personal choice and was not intended to champion any cause besides being true to himself and his teammates.
The athlete opened the doors for other sportspeople to come out, and the most recognized instance of this was when Carl Nassib posted a social media video detailing his coming out. The player would go on to be signed as a season regular for the Las Vegas Raiders. Sam acknowledged and thanked Nassib for “owning his truth.”