Company Apologizes for Firing Transgender Employee in 1968

Computer engineer, 82, honored during IBM meeting
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 22, 2020 11:00 AM CST
Transgender Pioneer Honored 52 Years After Being Fired
IBM invited Lynn Conway to a company meeting last month.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

A half-century after she was fired when IBM's chief executive learned she was transgender, Lynn Conway was called to an online meeting. Company employees—including transgender staff members—watched last month as executives apologized to Conway for the way she was treated in 1968, the New York Times reports. The company now supports transitioning employees, the head of human resources told her, but recognizes that none of that makes what happened to Conway any better. Transgender employees watching had a feeling they were "part of something phenomenal," said Ella Slade, the company's LGBT+ and global leader. A friend of Conway's said, "Nothing beats an unequivocal apology for vindication and closure." Then Conway, 82, who was hired in 1964 and was a rising star of a computer engineer when she was called in by her boss after telling him she was transitioning, was presented with a lifetime achievement award for her groundbreaking work.

"It was so unexpected," Conway said, adding that she became teary. "It was stunning." She was part of an architecture team working on a project to create a high-speed computer when her IBM career ended, per the Times. "It was a golden era in computer research, a time when fundamental breakthroughs were being made across a wide front," Conway wrote. Her supervisors wanted her to go on leave, then come back to IBM after surgery with a new identity. But their bosses feared a scandal. So Conway moved on, developing computer chip design methods later adopted worldwide and becoming a professor at the University of Michigan. She expressed no bitterness at her treatment. "To go back and slam and blame and defame people, there is a problem with that because it tends to divide people and create an angst that’s unresolvable," Conway said. "However, you do need evidence that there has been serious learning and appreciation and horror over what happened from today’s gestalt." (In June, the Supreme Court ruled that employees cannot be fired because they're transgender.)

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