Plucking out the name of a famous scientist off the top of your head is a piece of cake. As is picking out an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) celebrity. But what about those straddling both sides of this fence - where are the gay scientists? As a gay scientist myself, I very much struggled to name anyone past Alan Turing who, thanks to the recent release of The Imitation Game, is probably now the most renowned gay scientist worldwide. In fact, I rarely meet openly LGBT scientists in my professional life, and I'm ashamed to say I could barely name any who have contributed greatly to science in the past. Because there certainly are some.
A lot of LGBT scientists did not 'come out' in the past because they lived in a time where being gay or bisexual or transgender was quite simply not accepted. But they don't have to do that anymore. So let's solve this lack of knowledge about LGBT scientists. Here are seven scientists you probably didn't know were LGBT (or maybe you didn't even know they existed!).
Sally Ride, Astronaut
I'll start with a downright cool one, because there aren't many professions that are quite this exciting. Sally Ride was the first female American astronaut to visit space, though was subjected to an array of gender-stereotyping questions from the media throughout her career, such as "do you weep when things go wrong on the job". Ride was not public about her homosexuality in life, but finally came out in her obituary, announcing her 27-year-long relationship with famous educator and writer Tam O'Shaugnessy.
Michael Dillon, Physician
Famed for his work on ethics and medicine, Michael Dillon started out life as a woman, but was dressing and living as a man by the time he was studying at university. He is the first person known to have transitioned from female to male both hormonally and surgically, starting out with somewhat questionable testosterone pills supplied by his GP and later progressing to complete gender reassignment surgery under the hands of an unnamed Bristolian doctor. In 1958 he was outed in the media when his transgender history came to light.
Sara Josephine Baker, Physician
Scientist, feminist, lesbian, suffragist. Just a few words to sum up this influential woman. Working in a very male-dominated field, she would often wear male-tailored suits and was by no means afraid of being an 'out' lesbian. Her work in the effects of poverty on the wellbeing of infants allowed her to ensure the lowest infant death rate in an American city in the early 1900s, quite an accomplishment in those times. Apart from her scientific career, she played a role in a radical all-women discussion groups, at which she was endearingly referred to as Dr Joe.
Lynn Conway, Computer Scientist
Lynn Conway is an electrical engineer and computer science expert, renowned for her pioneering work in microelectronic chip design. After a lifetime struggling as living as a man, Conway made the decision to undergo gender reassignment surgery to become a woman, resulting in IBM firing her for her 'choices'. In 2009, the LGBT rights charity Stonewall named her as one of the Stonewall 40 Trans Heroes.
Sonja Kovalevsky, Mathematician
Born in 1800s Russia where women were quite simply forbidden from University study, Kovalevsky stubbornly ignored her father's refusals and moved to Germany to pursue her mathematical dreams. This openly-lesbian wilful woman was reportedly the first female in Europe to gain a doctorate in maths, and went on to develop Kovalevsky's theorem (don't ask me what this theorem was, we could be here all day).
Magnus Hirschfeld, Physician
This German physician and sexologist (a career path no doubt far more interesting than many of our own) was famed for his outspoken work on sexual minorities and promotion of LGBT rights, founding the Scientific Humanitarian Committee. When the Nazis took control of Germany during the Second World War, they were, somewhat unsurprisingly, not a fan of Hirschfeld's work, and proceeded to burn many of his books and archives. As a smart move on his part, Hirschfeld fled Germany and did not return.
Clyde Wahrhaftig, Geologist
This award-winning geologist is famed for his application of geological science to environmental issues, making geoscience more accessible and understandable, and was one of the first scientists to highlight the role of plate tectonics in earthquakes to the public. It was when he was accepting a Distinguished Career Award from the Geological Society of America that he came out as being gay, after which he worked hard to convince his fellow scientists to accept and encourage gay students.
So there we have it. Seven scientists who have shown that your sexuality or gender identity is by no means a barrier to greatness, nor anything to be ashamed of.Suggest a correction