Lesbians Who Tech: Surrounded by Heroes in San Francisco

On March 1-3rd, the 5th Annual Lesbians Who Tech + Allies Summit happened in the Castro District of San Francisco, bringing together over 5,000 lesbians, queer women + allies across all areas of technology. In this blog, Sarah tells us all about her experience as an IBM delegate attending the summit.

by Sarah Siegel

How marvelous it was to be on-stage at the Lesbians Who Tech (LWT) Summit in San Francisco on the first day of Women’s History Month. An audience of 5,000 people, IBM alumna Edie Windsor’s wife Judith, LWT leaders and I were celebrating the lovely women on-stage who were further joining the STEM ranks.

Speaking at LWT Summit. Photo by MJ Yap.

IBM contributed a bit of seed money for a coding scholarship named for Edie Windsor of blessed memory. Edie was the lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case that enabled same-sex marriage to become legal across the United States, she also held senior technical and management positions at IBM.

By design, the Summit was held in the Castro, a predominantly gay neighborhood in San Francisco. I, along with three other colleagues, participated as IBM delegates. The most striking part was that at least 50 percent of the speakers were women of color and 15 percent of speakers and attendees were transgender and gender-nonconforming.

Being inspired by role models.

Having lunch with Commander Zoe Dunning, SC, USNR (Ret.) and her protégée, Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy Carolyne Moten-Vu, was another Summit treat.

Elizabeth (left) & Carolyne Moten-Vu

Zoe was a facilitator at the first IBM Global LGBT Leadership Development Conference in 2002, which I helped produce. Carolyne and her wife are Naval Postgraduate School students. Soon, they will command their own ships or Carolyne will join the ranks of data scientists, ideally at IBM! Both Zoe and Carolyne are inspiring role models who bring their whole selves to work.

One of the most inspirational people there was Roberta Kaplan, the brilliant lawyer who helped Edie Windsor prevail in the US Supreme Court case that enabled same-sex marriage as the law of our land. They were the ones who enabled me and my wife Pat, Carolyne and her wife Elizabeth, and Zoe and her wife Pam to marry legally.

Making history.

The Summit moved me to consider my own history, and to want to keep making it. Did my years as a tech writer and manager of web developers qualify me as more than tech-adjacent? And did I make history by helping build the first business development team dedicated to the LGBT B2B market?

IBM print ad, 2002. I’m the one at the back.

At the age of the women on-stage, I was starting my career in the tech world as a tech writer. Growing up, I had wanted to be a writer and mineralogist, and featured among the couples in “The New York Times” Weddings. Then Science grew too inaccessible and writing became easier. By 20, dating men also became too challenging.

My first tech job was writing Electronic Data Interchange user guides in 1990. More than three decades ago, companies began accepting electronic business documents across value-added networks, depicted as a cloud. While the Cloud and blockchain weren’t yet generally available, EDI was like a proto-mashup of the two.

Daring to shape the future.

Nearly 30 years later, at the Lesbians Who Tech Summit, a young woman stops me, saying, “I related to your story.” She is commenting remarks I made in honor of the Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship.

“How so did you relate to what I said?” I ask.

“Well, everything in my life’s so good, except that my mother doesn’t yet accept me.” On-stage, I had mentioned that it took my mom of blessed memory some time to accept my lesbianism.

“I learned that it should take my family the same time it took me to accept myself, and anything sooner is a bonus,” I respond. We agree to connect on LinkedIn and I have a request waiting for me when I log on at the airport.

One way of shaping the future is to do a little mentoring and creating opportunities. Another is to be at the vanguard of where we could go as a society.

LWT 4.jpg
Pepper & Sarah at IBM Watson, NYC, 2016

At one of the Summit sessions, Cynthia Yeung of Softbank described how we might offload tasks to robots. Pepper, the humanoid robot, came from Softbank. My colleagues and I began training her with IBM Watson Conversation two years ago.

Showing up at our best.

Kim Messer, me, Judith Kasen-Windsor, Colleen McDowell and Elyse Anchell at the Castro Theater, Lesbians Who Tech Summit 2018.

One of the Summit’s sweetest opportunities was spending time with three beloved lesbian IBM colleagues. We welcomed the IBM alumnae in the crowd, too, including MJ Yap of Philippines and Noga Tavor of Israel. As Noga came off-stage from a panel, I introduced her to Edie Windsor’s wife Judith: “Judith, here’s another Jewish lesbian alumna of IBM like Edie was, and once an IBMer, always an IBMer.”

Judith responded, “That’s what Edie always said.”

The most hopeful session of the Summit was Sally Kohn’s. She wrote the book, “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity” where she encouraged all of us not to discount others, but instead to get to know them.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’m going to meet with my team and talk with them about all that I took away from the Lesbians Who Tech Summit. I hope they, too, can find inspiration even though they are not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. After all, we’ve got our humanity in common.

Sarah Siegel is the manager of Enterprise Learning Design at IBM where she leads a team of learning scientists whose offerings enhances IBMers’ skills. She is also active in IBM’s LGBT+ community. Sarah helped start up an IBM business development team dedicated to the LGBT+ B2B market in 2001, and it continues to thrive globally. She lives with her wife and their two feline daughters in Montclair, New Jersey.

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3 thoughts

  1. Wonderful blog post, Sarah! I would have loved to be there … Proud to be an IBM Out Exec Alumni!

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