There has been a considerable struggle of acceptance for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual (LGBTQIA), and other marginalized genders. Even when there is acceptance in the workplace or at home, LGBTQIA individuals don’t feel welcomed. The judgmental eyes in their surroundings are always hovering around them.
A key step for driving equality across all genders in companies is to ensure that LGBTQIA individuals feel comfortable coming out openly about their gender identity and sexual orientation. Along these lines, seeing role models in the technology sector, especially in a cutting field like Artificial Intelligence, encourages building the comfort level. The technology world has been growing in influence across sectors but is it ensuring gender equality?
Hence, I am excited to share the stories of 10 LGBTQIA technology executives who took the bold step of openly announcing their gender identity and sexual orientation and hence unblocking the coming-out path for their fellow community members. But more than their names or stature, their stories of resilience and self-discovery stand out. My spirit in summarizing these stories is to inspire others to feel comfortable about their gender and sexuality, first within themselves and then in front of society.
In 2014, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, became the first leader of a major company to come out as gay. Tim publicly came out in an editorial for Bloomberg Business, Tim publicly came out, saying, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
Tim said he was receiving emails and letters from children who had been ostracized or bullied because of their sexual orientation. Tim, a reserved person, realized that he was selfish by concealing his identity. So he finally decided to leverage his executive status to help the cause of children facing abuse due to gender identity.
Gigi is the Executive Vice-Chairman of Cheuk Nang Holdings Limited in Hong Kong and the lesbian daughter of a billionaire named Cecil Chao Sze-Tsung.
Her father, enraged after learning about his daughter’s sexual orientation, publicly announced an offer of over USD 100 million to any male suitor who would become Gigi’s husband. In response, Gigi penned a heartfelt plea in an open letter, starting with ‘‘Dear Daddy’’, urging her father to accept her sexuality and treat her partner Sean Eav as ‘‘a normal, dignified human being’’. Eventually, he accepted the relationship, and Gigi became a star in the local LGBTQ community.
Besides the commonly-seen family rejection barricade, the major aspect utterly wrong here is equating financial value to a love relationship formed naturally between two human beings. Love should never be valued by money.
Juergen is the former CEO of Siemens UK. Juergen had a tough time coming out about his sexuality because he feared it would change his colleagues’ perceptions of him and affect his career opportunities. However, he eventually overcame his fear and identified himself as gay. Since then, he has preached the concept of inclusion in the workplace.
There is a feeling of liberation after coming out. As Juergen shared, “there is no question that after coming out and being allowed to be who I am, I became a much stronger individual. I became a more creative, a more confident communicator, and a better team player.”
Ming is a renowned neuroscientist and an Artificial Intelligence expert. She is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded three startups. In addition, she fosters a blend of neuroscience and data mining as a trans woman to improve student potential. Her last venture is Socos Labs, an institute that blends neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence to explore human potential.
Ming — then known as Evan Campbell Smith — realized at 12 that she was unhappy being a boy. She kept her feelings a secret till she joined the University of California, San Diego. She dropped out of college but eventually earned an M.S. and a Ph.D. in psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. There, Ming fell in love with a fellow Ph.D. candidate, Norma Chang.
Vivienne came out as a transgender person to her fiancee in 2004 and, along with the wedding, changed her name from Evan Smith to Vivienne Ming. She is known for proclaiming, “what drives success and the most successful students is internal motivation.”
Jon was nicknamed Maddog in college due to his lack of control over his temper. Hall is a proponent of Unix and Linux systems and open-source software. In 2012 Hall came out as gay on the birthday of mathematician Alan Turing.
In his coming-out speech, he commended the computer science community for being more accepting and accommodating of genders than others. He even noted, “Computer science was a haven for homosexuals, transsexuals, and a lot of other sexuals, mostly because the history of the science called for fairly intelligent, modern-thinking people.”
Tim is the founder of Quark Inc., which was responsible for producing software that laid out graphics in 1981.
In 2009, Gill, who had long gone public that he was gay, got married to Scott Miller and has continued to advocate for the causes of the LGBTQ community. He was among the first openly gay people on the Forbes 400 list of America’s wealthiest people. Gill created a nonprofit “The Gill Foundation’ in 1994 after Colorado passed an amendment that outlawed civil rights protections for gays and lesbians.
Bohnett created one of the first networking websites, Geocities, back when the internet was still a growing phenomenon.
Bohnett has been openly gay and consistently recognized for his contributions to the tech world and the LGBTQIA community. He created the David Bohnett Foundation, a non-profit, grant-making organization devoted to improving society through social activism.
Hughes was one of the co-founders of Facebook during his Harvard days and served as spokesman for the company. He has openly called out to dismantle Facebook because it is so powerful that it threatens democracy.
He has been married to activist Sean Eldridge since 2012. They are called the gay power couple and have been active in same-sex advocacy.
Joel Simkhai is an Israeli-American tech entrepreneur. He is the founder of Grindr, the social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people.
He had expressed that his reason for creating the app was his desire to create a community for gay men. As a result, the app has grown tremendously and has, reportedly, about 13 million monthly users in 2020.
Pittsford is the founder of “lesbians who tech,” a platform that offers opportunities to women and the LGBTQIA community members in tech. It is claimed to be the largest LGBTQIA community of technologists globally.
Pittsford grew up in San Diego, California, in a conservative family. She did not formally come out as a lesbian until the end of college. After that, she followed a crusade aimed at uplifting under-represented communities in the tech sector.
Pittsford got married to Pia Carusone in 2017.
A common thread in all these stories is that most of these executives and all-time geniuses found it hard to come out about their gender and sexuality because of the fear that it would change their lives and ruin their careers. Others were worried about homophobic behaviors from their colleagues because people dislike what they do not understand.
In a nutshell, these stories of immense self-struggle and resilience are inspiring narratives of the inner victory of the human being. I hope to see the birth of an egalitarian world.