- Tim Cook is arguably the most prominent LGBTQ+ person in tech, but he isn’t the only one.
- There are LGBTQ+ identifying individuals in prominent roles as venture capitalists, diversity in tech advocates, and C-suite level executives at large tech companies like IBM and Microsoft.
- Here are 23 of the most influential and notable people in tech who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
The atmosphere in Silicon Valley, where “bro culture” is rampant, is not known for being kind to anyone “different.”
That can especially be true for LGBTQ+ identifying individuals, who only gained the right to marry in the US in 2005. Gay marriage is still only legal in around 30 countries.
But a number of diversity initiatives aimed at LGBTQ+ people in the tech sector have emerged in recent years. Groups like Lesbians Who Tech,StartOut, and TransTech Social Enterprises have worked to improve office culture at tech companies, connect LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs with venture capitalists, and make resources more readily available to the queer tech community.
Business Insider has compiled a list of some of the most influential and notable people in tech who identify as LGBTQ+. Some techies on this list have harnessed their gender identities and sexual orientations to speak out about and further the presence of LGBTQ+ people in tech. For others, being LGBTQ+ is simply a part of their personal life, which they strive to keep separate from business.
Here are 23 of the most influential LGBTQ+ people in the tech industry:
Chris Hughes, cofounder of Facebook
Hughes was one of the four Facebook cofounders. He’s also served as the editor-in-chief for The New Republic, and is now the co-chair of a financial stability initiative called the Economic Security Project.
Hughes has been married to political activist Sean Eldridge since 2012. Eldridge is the former political director for same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, and has since founded Stand Up America, a grassroots resistance campaign started in the weeks following the election of Donald Trump.
Arlan Hamilton, cofounder and CEO of Backstage Capital
Hamilton is managing partner at Backstage Capital, a VC firm she started in 2015 while homeless. Backstage invests in companies led by underrepresented founders – women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ individuals.
In a September 2018 cover story about Hamilton, Fast Company said she’s “the only black, queer woman to have ever built a venture capital firm from scratch.”
Joel Simkhai, founder of Grindr
Simkhai founded Grindr, a dating app for men in the LGBTQ+ community, back in 2009. The app was born out of what he told Business Insider was a “selfish desire” to meet more gay men. Today, Grindr has almost 4 million daily users.
Ana Arriola, partner and product designer at Microsoft
Arriola’s official title at Microsoft is currently a partner and general manager for the company’s work in artificial intelligence and research, and for its Bing search engine. Since July 2018, she’s worked on human-centric and ethical design of products.
Previously, Arriola has worked on product design in executive positions at Facebook, Samsung, and Sony. She also worked at the infamous biotech company Theranos as chief design architect, and was name-dropped in John Carreyrou’s book about the company, “Bad Blood.”
Arriola went through her full biological transition in the last few years. In a 2016 interview before she transitioned, Arriola said the biggest reason she hadn’t done so yet was “fear for my 26-year career and financial implications for my family’s future.”
“Don’t be told how or what you should be doing in your life,” Arriola said at a conference in 2016. “You define it yourself.”
Megan Smith, former chief technology officer of the United States
Megan Smith was appointed in 2014 under President Obama as the first-ever female US CTO. Before that, she was a VP at Google, where she helped launch the company’s Solve For X and Women Techmakers initiatives. She’s also previously served as CEO of LGBTQ+ online media company Planet Out.
After leaving the White House in 2017, Smith helped the Tech Jobs Tour to bring diverse talent into the tech sector. Smith is also the founder and CEO of shift7, a collective focused on bringing together figures in tech and public service.
The founders of StartOut
StartOut was founded in 2009 as a nonprofit for empowering LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs by four men: Joe DiPasquale, Lorenzo Thione, Bryan Janeczko, and Darren Spedale. The network has more than 15,000 members nationwide.
DiPasquale founded Regroup Mass Notification, which specialises in developing systems for mass communication. He’s currently the CEO of the cryptocurrency hedge fund BitBull Capital.
Thione is the CEO for influencer platform The Social Edge. He also helped found Microsoft-acquired company Powerset, and is a Broadway musical producer.
Janeczko is active in the food-tech sector. He founded a food startup incubator called Wicked Start, and launched one of the earliest subscription-based meal delivery services called Nu-Kitchen, which was later sold to Nutrisystem.
Spedale cofounded Family by Design, a resource for the co-parenting community.
Sara Sperling, former head of diversity and inclusion at Facebook
When Sperling worked at Facebook, she established the company’s diversity and inclusion program. She’s also headed up the human resources departments at both Snapchat and DoorDash.
Keith Rabois, partner at Khosla Ventures
Rabois is an investment partner at Khosla Ventures, where he’s been since 2013. He also cofounded Opendoor, a platform for buying and selling homes, and he’s held executive positions at notable tech companies like PayPal, LinkedIn, and Square.
Rabois is considered part of the “Paypal mafia,” an influential contingent of former PayPal employees who went on to important roles at major tech companies. Another person on this list is also considered a member: Peter Thiel.
Leanne Pittsford, founder and CEO of Lesbians Who Tech
Since 2012, Lesbians Who Tech has offered programming and opportunities to give visibility and opportunity to LGBTQ+ women and non-binary individuals in the tech sector. The other two initatives are aimed at mentoring and recruiting underrepresented groups in tech.
Pittsford got married in June 2017 to political consultant Pia Carusone.
Jon “maddog” Hall, chairman of Linux Professional Institute
Hall, who goes by the nickname “maddog,” is one of the notable supporters of Unix and Linux systems, and an early proponent for free and open-source software. He chairs the board of directors for the Linux Professional Institute, a nonprofit that provides certification to open-source professionals. He’s also the CEO of cloud platform provider OptDyn.
Hall came out as gay in 2012 in honour of the 100th birthday of mathematician Alan Turing, who also identified as gay.
In his coming out piece in Linux Magazine, Hall wrote: “Most of the people in my world of electronics and computers were like the mathematicians of Alan Turings’ time, highly educated and not really caring whether their compatriots were homosexual or not, or at least looking beyond the sexuality and seeing the rest of the person.”
Martine Rothblatt, founder of Sirius XM and United Therapeutics
Rothblatt cofounded Sirius XM Satellite Radio in 1990, then founded the biotech company United Therapeutics in 1996.
Rothblatt came out as transgender in the 1990s. She’s been open about her past life as a man, and has since been a vocal advocate for the trans community. She was featured on the cover of New York magazine in 2014 as the highest-paid female CEO.
“I took a journey from male to female, so if I hide that, I’m, like, just replicating the closet of my past with another closet of the future,” Rothblatt said in a 2014 interview. “That made no sense, and that’s why I’m open.”
She’s been with her wife, Bina Aspen, for almost 40 years, and before she transitioned. The couple have four children together.
Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal, Palantir, and Founders Fund
Thiel is currently a partner at Founders Fund, a tech-centric venture capital firm he cofounded in 2005. Before that, he cofounded PayPal and big data startup Palantir Technologies. Thiel was the first outside investor in Facebook – he’s since sold most of his stakes, but sits on Facebook’s board.
Thiel got married in October 2017 in a surprise wedding in Vienna. He’s also a vocal supporter of Donald Trump.
Ann Mei Chang, former chief innovation officer at USAID
Chang served as chief innovation officer for USAID, an independent federal agency for providing foreign aid, until January 2017. In her two-year stint, Ann Mei became the first executive director of the US Global Development Lab, an innovation hub for USAID that calls on Silicon Valley for global solutions. She published a book on social innovation in November called “Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good.”
Previously, she held executive positions at Mercy Corps and the State Department, where she was a senior advisor for women and technology. She’s also worked as an engineer in product development for Apple, Intuit, and Google.
Chang told Fortune in 2015 that being a lesbian in the tech sector has sometimes been beneficial, because she’s treated as “one of the guys.”
“You diffuse the sexual tension thing,” Chang said. “You are working with young nerdy guys who aren’t sure how to deal with women. It made it a lot easier.”
Peter Arvai, cofounder and CEO of Prezi
Arvai helped found Prezi, a presentation format alternative to PowerPoint, in 2009. He’s considered to be the first openly gay Hungarian CEO, and has made diversity and inclusion a major component of Prezi’s work environment.
“I feel [being openly gay] challenges me to be a better version of myself,” Prezi told the Financial Times in a October 2018 interview. “The most effective thing anyone can do to encourage openness is being open with their own personal identity, and being open to meeting people with other identities.”
Jeff Ragovin, chief growth officer at Social Native
He previously cofounded Buddy Media, a social media marketing company acquired by Salesforce for $US800 million. He was also a chief strategy officer at Salesforce after the acquisition.
Gina Trapani, managing partner at Postlight
Trapani is a managing partner at Postlight, a studio that’s building digital platforms and products. She’s the cofounder of the software platform ThinkUp, and also started Lifehacker, the Gawker-launched website now owned by Univision.
David Bohnett, founder of GeoCities
Bohnett cofounded GeoCities, an early social networking website that launched in 1994, before Facebook or MySpace existed. The US version of the Yahoo-acquired site was shut down in 2009, and the Japanese version will shut down for good this March.
After he sold GeoCities to Yahoo in 1999, Bohnett went on to launch a VC firm called Baroda Ventures.
He also created the David Bohnett Foundation, a nonprofit that supports social justice issues and promotes social activism. The foundation has donated more than $US20 million in grants to LGBTQ+ rights organisations, and has established community “CyberCenters” across the US that are designed to give the LGBTQ+ community easier access to the Internet.
Claudia Brind-Woody, VP at IBM
Brind-Woody is IBM’s vice president and managing director of intellectual property licensing. She’s also the co-chair of IBM’s LGBT executive task force, a position she’s used to champion LGBTQ+ diversity in the workplace. She serves on the board for workplace equality advocate Out & Equal.
“When our employees don’t have to think twice about struggling for the same benefits, recognition, or are afraid of being safe, then productivity goes up,” Brind-Woody told Business Insider in 2016.
Brind-Woody is American but works for IBM in England, where she lives with her wife Tracie.
Peter Sisson, founder and CEO of Line2
Sisson is a serial entrepreneur who has founded a number of companies that have all been acquired: His wine retail website, WineShopper.com, raised $US46 million before it was acquired by Wine.com; In 2005, Microsoft acquired one of Sisson’s companies, Teleo, an early Skype competitor; And he founded Line2, an app that provides phone service, which was bought by j2 Global in June 2018.
Sisson is currently founder and CEO of Yaza, an augmented reality company.
In an interview with Big Think in 2009, Sisson said being gay as an entrepreneur has been a “non-issue” for the most part. He said while he doesn’t hide his sexual orientation, it’s not something he feels he needs to “wear on my sleeve.”
“There’s never been any sort of problem with anyone finding out that I was gay and suddenly not wanting to do business with me or not wanting to fund me,” Sisson said.
Angelica Ross, founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises
Ross runs TransTech Social Enterprises, an incubator helping trans and gender-non-conforming people find jobs and prepare for their career paths. In a 2015 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Ross explained why she started TransTech in the first place.
“Most trans people are either violently removed or not welcome in many educational and work spaces,” Ross said. “It gives people a place where there’s no question that they belong and are valuable.”
Ross came out in 2000, after returning home from a stint in the military, and later went through her transition. Ross is also an actress who has starred in the YouTube web series “Her Story,” and, more recently, on the FX show “Pose.”
David Blumberg, founder of Blumberg Capital
Blumberg founded his investment firm in 1991, and has focused on early-stage companies in enterprise, fintech, and commerce. His firm has invested more than $US500 million in tech companies.
Blumberg is a Republican and vocal supporter of Donald Trump, something he’s lost friends over, he told Business Insider in September 2018. He lives in San Francisco with his partner and their two children.
“Silicon Valley is a place that gives one the opportunity to try new things and be different,” Blumberg told the Boston Business Journal in 2018. “Although being gay is still uncommon in the VC world, I’ve never felt discrimination; ultimately, I have found the tech industry remarkably open-minded, welcoming, and meritocratic.”
Lynn Conway, pioneering chip designer at IBM
The 81-year-old Conway is credited as one of the most important pioneering engineers of supercomputer technologies and micro chip design. In the 1960s, she worked at IBM on designing supercomputers, then a decade later, worked on chip design at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center.
Conway’s notable role at IBM wasn’t realised for many years, however. IBM fired Conway when she started going through transition while employed there. She came out publicly as trans in the early 2000s, and has used her position to become a vocal advocate for the trans community, and a staunch opponent to the pathologization of transgender people by the psychiatric community.
“When I made the decision to have a gender correction, everybody told me I was terrible, I was going to end up dead or in an asylum someplace,” she told ABC News in an interview. “But they were wrong. I’ve had a great life, I’m very happy, and I’ve managed to do some productive, important work.”
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
Tim Cook isn’t only one of the most powerful LGBTQ+ people in tech – he’s arguably one of the most powerful people in tech, period. Cook was named Apple’s CEO in August 2011, and previously served as the company’s chief operating officer.
Cook came out publicly as gay in 2014 in a personal essay for Bloomberg Businessweek. He said that while he wanted to continue to keep his private life to himself, he felt an “increasing sense of duty” to come out as his way to help the gay community.
“[Being gay] has been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry,” he wrote in his essay. “It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.”
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