LGBTQ+ History Month: An informal exploration on the history of LGBTQ+ CS Education
Posted by Megan Bowen on October 26, 2020
Posted by Megan Bowen on Oct 26, 2020
October is LGBTQ+ History Month. It is important to acknowledge and name that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, in the United States, has largely been built upon the backs of women of color, specifically transgender women of color.
October is LGBTQ+ History Month. It is important to acknowledge and name that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, in the United States, has largely been built upon the backs of women of color, specifically transgender women of color. A few of these women include Martha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Angela Davis.
While writing from my own knowledge base, as a lesbian woman, LGBTQ+ history as it relates to CS is proving difficult. I am unable to name a single LGBTQ+ person that influenced the field of CS from memory. Once I started digging into the topic a few names did rise to the top with familiarity, Eddie Windsor, the namesake of a scholarship provided by Lesbians Who Tech, and Alan Turning, the focus of the movie The Imitation Game. Both of these people, who just happen to be white, I was unaware of until roughly six years ago.
This really brought to light a few questions I would like to further explore. First, why am I so unaware of LGBTQ+ history in CS? Second, what does LGBTQ+ history in CS education look like? Third, what does the LGBTQ+ history of CSTA look like and what are we doing to educate our membership about LGBTQ+ education in CS?
Why am I so unaware of LGBTQ+ history in CS?
LGBTQ+ history in CS is not nonexistent. Anyone can easily do an internet search and find numerous similar lists of LGBTQ+ people who have made an impact on CS. However, I had to do my own research on this and it was not a topic that was taught to me by any of my mentors. I often wonder, what having access to this information earlier in my life would have done for my career and coming out process.
This information exists in a silo. It is out there, it is available, but there are very limited resources that assist teachers in integrating this information into their everyday lesson plans. As many of us educators know, it takes a lot of work to build a meaningful lesson around a topic like LGBTQ+ history month. So the choice is to briefly mention these folx or leave them out altogether. This deficiency in LGBTQ+ related CS curriculum, resources, and lesson plans, not only regarding our history but also general LGBTQ+ visibility and education within CS topics, is likely a large factor in why I have a lack of awareness regarding CS LGBTQ+ history.
What does LGBTQ+ history in CS education look like?
I have noticed that when people talk about equity in CS, they often are referring to racial, gender, and socioeconomic equity. The LGBTQ+ community seems to be left out more often than other marginalized identities in these conversations. When all of these identities intersect, students who identify as LGBTQ+ and hold one or more other marginalized identities, outcomes tend to trend more negatively.
In a quick internet search for information on LGBTQ+ students in CS, many of the results reference STEM fields losing LGBTQ+ undergrads, obstacles in CS for LGBTQ+ students, and STEM being a less likely option for LGBTQ+ people. It is even difficult to find CS specific articles and instead I was left with data as it relates more broadly to STEM fields.
In a study conducted in 2018 (1), it was found that LGBQ students were more likely to change majors from a STEM field to a non STEM field than their heterosexual counterparts. Additionally, the National Science Foundation has been collecting data on “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering” since 1994 but they have never collected information regarding sexual orientation (2). In turn, this leaves almost no historical pathway for LGBTQ+ students to follow or look back on.
I do want to note two LGBTQ+ CS organizations that are working to mentor, educate, and build LGBTQ+ CS history for future folx within the community. Maven Youth is an organization that is working to build LGBTQ+ tech leaders for social change through camps, workshops, and programming. Trans Tech Social is building career-ready LGBTQ+ people through education, mentorship, and support. Both organizations are doing really important work to help close gaps for LGBTQ+ people in CS at all levels.
What does the LGBTQ+ history of CSTA look like and what is the CSTA doing to educate its membership about LGBTQ+ history in CS?
In a search of our website (including resources, Voice, and the Advocate) for “LGBTQ+” the only results that were returned were my Equity Fellow profile, a previous equity fellow profile, one Voice post, and the Guidance for Inclusive Teaching. Under our Reports and Publications, searching between 2005 and today, “LGBTQ+” returns “No Data to Display”.
While doing this informal data collection I found that since April 2005, the length of time Voice has existed, there has only been one post centered on LGBTQ+ students/educators in CS. In that post, CSTA asks our membership, “How are we showing up for LGBTQ+ youthâ¦”. Nine responses were shared, and it is my understanding that these were the only responses received. Of those responses, eight of them were from male appearing members, and eight were phenotypically white appearing. It was surprising to me that an organization that spans the US and Canada only received nine responses to a question like this. What wasn’t surprising was that the results replicated dominate societal patterns within CS where, even within the LGBTQ+ community, the voices of visually appearing white masculine folx dominate the dialogue or are the only ones that feel safe sharing.
This questionnaire was primarily shared out through social media posts identified by #CSTAPride. This hashtag has made the CSTA LGBTQ+ community more accessible when you are connected to various social media platforms, primarily on Twitter. However, there are no LGBTQ+ social media posts prior to June 2020.
At the CSTA 2020 National conference, a “Pride- Birds of a Feather” meetup was created to connect LGBTQ+ educators. Since then there have been monthly Pride meetups. However, this affinity group, or how to join, does not appear on the CSTA website or events calendar. Like other marginalized identities, visibility matters for LGBTQ+ students and educators alike. We need LGBTQ+ educators to be role models, mentors, and visual reminders that LGBTQ+ students belong in CS. But how do we expect to recruit LGBTQ+ educators into the field if we are not providing visible affirmation that CSTA is a safe and supportive place for LGBTQ+ educators, especially on our website? Additionally, if we do not begin educating and supporting our wider membership/allys on how to support and mentor LGBTQ+ students, as an organization, we will continue to have an invisible LGBTQ+ history.
What does this all mean?
It is easy for us, as teachers, to once a year do a google search for LGBTQ+ folx in CS history and find a list of people that are re-posted each year on different blogs. But we are not creating a lasting history that creates easier access or a pipeline for LGBTQ+ youth in CS, especially for our LGBTQ+ students of color.
I hope that this post serves as a catalyst to increase LGBTQ+ visibility in CSTA and our CS classrooms. While the past 10 years have brought a lot of progress for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States, it is clear that within our own organization and CS as a whole, there is work to be done.
Megan Bowen, a proud Mexican-American, has been an Educational Technology Specialist for ten years. She’s currently the Technology Coordinator and Integration Specialist while also teaching AP Computer Science, Digital Citizenship, Film and Video, and 3D Design at Salem Academy Charter School in Salem, Massachusetts. She also advises after school clubs like Makerspace, Robotics, and S.A.G.A (Sexuality and Gender Alliance). Megan graduated from Grand Valley State University with a B.A. in English and sociology, and an M.Ed. in educational technology. Her master’s thesis focused on increasing the number of women in STEM fields. As a member of the queer community, Megan was accepted into the 2015 White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summit to collaborate in identifying technology and computer science needs as they relate to the LGBTQ community. In her free time, Megan plays roller derby for Boston and goes on adventures with her cat Scout.