In 1969, Stonewall was nothing more than another stinky hole in the wall in New York with no running water, serving adulterated alcohol and run by the Mafia. It was also one of the few havens in the Big Apple where many people could truly be themselves.
That year, at dawn of 28 June, fed up with unfair raids, a group of gays, lesbians and transsexuals started a revolt against police abuse and a society that considered them the result of a mental disorder.
The bricks that crashed through the smoky windows of the Stonewall cracked open the taboo of sexual freedom and paved the way for future generations. These generations have since rescued men and women (hereinafter, people) from oblivion, people whose intellect (now and forever, genderless) made their own important contribution to a society ruled by double standards.
This proud ABGstories explores the life of some of those minds.
The thousand and one faces of the rainbow
Everybody perceives the world around them through their own unique filters. Some get stuck in a black and white vision, while others are determined to explore the wide palette of hues that are within reach.
Such is the case with Gilbert Baker, the artist who created the rainbow flag in 1978 (inspired by the famous song Over the rainbow, the main title theme of the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz in 1939) and turned it into a symbol for millions of people. And all for free! He refused to register his design so that his creation would always be available for public use.
The first flag had 8 colours. Currently, the most popular version is the 6-colour version, since pink and turquoise were eliminated due to manufacturing reasons.
Sheer coincidence made the Peruvian province of Cuzco and the LGTB community release two reasonably similar symbols in June 1978 within just a few days of each other. The one in Cuzco is inspired by the Inca whipala (pre-Columbian square flag with 7 colours including white).
The Andean flag also had 7 shades in its version from the ‘70s, sky blue (not to be confused with turquoise) being one of them. There were never any allegations of plagiarism.
The grey man who brought colour back to the world
When we look for a clear illustration of the cruelty of prejudice, Alan M. Turing comes to the forefront. His talent and recognition as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence- in addition to his Bombe (the machine that cracked the code of the Nazi’s Enigma machine and saved us from the yoke of Adolf Hitler)- were about to be completely erased from human consciousness when in 1952 the mathematician was prosecuted for being homosexual (relations between people of the same sex were legalised in 1967 in the UK).
Turing had to choose between chemical castration or going to prison. He chose the first. That seemed to be the lesser of two evils for someone whom society of the time had already condemned to live with repression beforehand.
The debate about the cause of his death, being either suicide or accidental ingestion, is ongoing. Whatever the case, Turing shortened his life (as he had done with World War II) at age 41, in 1954.
After the conflict and before his tragic end, Alan Turing patented a Data storage transfer means for a digital computer (US 2799449) as his legacy for posterity.
Great Britain ended up doing him justice, although posthumously. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted him a royal pardon, and his portrait has appeared on £50 notes since 2021. As for the film industry, his figure was immortalised in The Imitation Game.
The proud chip
Lynn Conway also knows a lot about a posteriori pardons. In 1964, this American computer engineer started working for IBM. It was in that environment that she developed dynamic instruction scheduling. This milestone for modern computing made the executions and data flow of VLSI scalable processors more efficient.
Very important digression: Conway entered IBM as a Mr and was fired as a Ms. In 1967, she initiated her gender transition. In 1968, she was laid off by the firm’s CEO for reasons that are illegal today. A word to the wise…
She moved on. She turned the page at Xerox PARC, a centre that is known nowadays as Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Lynn’s intellect gained the upper hand and she was eventually acknowledged as a computer science and microelectronics pioneer for her innovative VLSI chip designs.
Let’s go back to IBM and rewind to August 2020 for a moment. No more and no less than 52 years later, the computer giant publicly apologised to Ms Lynn Conway.
Many of the people who channel their anger and hatred towards the LGBT community through their keyboards and social media should know that their computer systems partly operate thanks to privileged minds such as the one we just described. Hopefully, the number of haters will decrease, but values and respect in this heavily connected society will increase.
The list of rainbow coloured talents is endless and they can’t all fit in here. But their work teaches us something:
- They add up to the greater good (not only for LGBTI).
- Despite our society’s fixation on putting labels and creating special folders for everything, fortunately for our species, sound ideas transcend both the entire alphabet and the range of sexual orientations.
However, if this is about clinging to a letter and/or acronym… then, I put all my bets on the letter “H”. Because H stands for human… with all the flaws, varieties and shades that it entails.
Jack Lemmon said it best in 1959: “Well, nobody’s perfect” (Some Like It Hot).
PS: Author’s recommended soundtrack for this reading: DOMINE – TECHNICOLORS. Enjoy!
This article is proudly dedicated to Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, for breaking down the stone wall and paving the way for us, and to all those companies that, in addition to dyeing their logos every June, led by example every day of the year. Thanks for spreading respect! Also, thanks to Pablo Calvo for his partial review of this text, as a man of Arts… when it comes to IT matters all I know is how to restart the computer. Well, I do play for the other team (pun so intended). Keep safe, free & creative!