|Gay Pride activities
What's pride got to do with it?
|Posted July 1, 2003; WW27|
By Teri Warner, Employee Communications
|Almost everyone has pride in
themselves, including Lynn Conway, a pioneer of microelectronics chip
design and recipient of many honors, including election to the National
Academy of Engineering—the highest professional recognition an engineer
Conway, now professor emerita of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, has a lot of pride. Pride in her work and herself. Pride that has carried her through some intense challenges in her path to becoming comfortable in her body and comfortable in the world around her. In 1968, Conway completed the transition to becoming a woman.
After receiving an MS in electrical engineering, Conway—then Robert—went to work at IBM Research. There Conway invented a powerful method for issuing multiple out-of-order instructions in supercomputer machine cycles, an invention that made possible the creation of the first true superscalar computer.
Although her accomplishments were outstanding, Conway was not happy because she had the brain-sex and gender identity of a girl in a boy’s body. She connected with the pioneering physician Harry Benjamin, M.D. in 1966, shortly after he had published his seminal textbook, The Transsexual Phenomenon. That text was the first to describe the true nature of, and medical solutions for, Conway's mis-gendering affliction. With Dr. Benjamin's help, Conway began medical treatments in 1967. She became one of the very early transsexual women to undergo hormonal and surgical sex reassignment to have her body completely changed from male to female. Sadly, just before Conway underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1968, she was fired by IBM for being transsexual and lost all connections to her important work there.
After surgery in 1968 and under the new name, Lynn, Conway started her career all over again as a lowly contract programmer without a past. A gritty survivor, her adjustment in her new role went completely against the dire predictions of the IBM executives and all the family and friends who had deserted her. All alone she went out into the world, made new friends, and worked hard to succeed in her new life. Moving up through a series of companies, she landed a computer architecture job at Memorex in 1971. In 1973, she was recruited by Xerox's new Palo Alto Research Center, just as it was forming. By 1978, she had already achieved wide recognition in her field, owing to her pioneering research on VLSI systems. Since then, thousands of chip designers learned their craft from Conway's textbook, Introduction to VLSI Systems, which she co-authored with professor Carver Mead of Caltech. Thousands more did their first VLSI design projects using the government's MOSIS prototyping system, which is based directly on Conway's work at PARC. Today she is considered one of the major contributors to the modern chip design revolution.
She was also one of the pioneers in undergoing a gender transition.
Conway’s story is about a person who made amazing contributions to society in spite of intense ostracism and stigmatization. “It’s like building bridges,” she says. “People can say the design stinks, your ideas aren’t any good. But if the bridge stands, it stands. People can look at me and say what they want, but take a look at my life and tell me if the bridge stands.”
What’s this got to do with Intel? It all goes back to pride. Pride in ourselves and pride in our diversity.
Like National Women’s History Month, Pride Month is a celebration of achievements. It is an opportunity for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community to share and educate others about diversity. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge their successes, such as the accomplishments of people like Conway, and plan for the work that is yet to be done. It’s been a long time since Conway’s dismissal at IBM, but GLBT people still can’t be sure it’s safe to be open and honest about who they are at home, at work, and in the community. Pride activities educate about the obstacles still faced while celebrating the progress made.
During the month of June and into mid-July, the Intel Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender Employees (IGLOBE) chartered employee group will hold many activities as well as participate in local Pride festivals and parades.
The big picture
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