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There would have been a high-tech revolution without gays and lesbians, but it wouldn't have been as revolutionary. The following stories illustrate how extensive GLBT influence has been: from a pioneering transgendered computer engineer to the gay cities that attract high-tech companies, plus a look at how activists are using the Internet to change the way gay men behave.

The secret formula

Want a good place for a high-tech firm? A new study says to look to the gay urban meccas By David Kirby

In the 1970s, as the cliche used to go, where there was quiche, there were gays. But these days, America's gayest cities are known as much for microchips and superconductors as trendy French food. Why? Urban areas that attract high-tech industries tend to be the same cities that draw large numbers of gay male workers.

Those are the results of a soon-to-be-released study from the Brookings Institution. The authors of the study analyzed U.S. high-tech economic and population distribution patterns and found that the nation's top 10 areas for high-tech industries (including the Internet, E-commerce, software, hardware, and biotech) were mostly the cities that had the highest concentration of gay men.

"The bottom line is that, gays signal a denser talent market, a labor market that is more rich in diversity, a labor market that welcomes people who are different," says Gary Gates, co-author of the study, to be published by Brookings's Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. Gates collaborated on the project with Richard Florida, an economic development professor at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University.

In 1999, Gates and fellow researchers devised what they called a "gay index" of U.S. cities and published their findings in the journal Demography. Using census and other demographic data, they ranked metropolitan areas based on how much more likely gay men are to live in such areas than an "average" person. (Only areas with more than 700,000 were included in the Brookings study, leaving such high-tech cities as Boise, Ida., and Albuquerque, N.M., out of consideration.)

Unsurprisingly, the San Francisco Bay area--which includes Oakland and San Jose, among other cities--was first, as gay men are 5.39 times more likely to live there than the "average" American, according to the study. The Bay Area was followed in the gay index list by Washington, D.C., Austin, Atlanta, and San Diego. Richard Florida, after seeing the data, noted that these top gay cities were also leaders in high-tech industries, according to a survey called the Tech-Pole index, developed by the Milken Institute.

Gays generally don't move to cities because they offer high-tech jobs, and high-tech firms don't move to cities because there is a big gay population. But clearly, the authors of the study argue, there is some connection.

"These places have a higher tolerance and respect for diversity that is very attractive to high-tech companies," says Gates. "It's a major part of how high-tech firms can be successful, because they need creativity and talent."

"Our fundamental argument," he continues, "is that gays are a signal about what kind of area this is, and the signals they are giving is, this is a place that would attract people who enjoy being around diversity, who are tolerant of people potentially outside the mainstream." That suggests that the labor market there "is thicker with talent and creativity than the broader cross section of America" and is measured by something he refers to as the "bohemian index."

There are some anomalies in the study. Salt Lake City has lots of high-tech industries but is hardly a gay mecca. Dallas-Fort Worth, meanwhile, is number 5 on the Milken list but only 19th on the gay index. Even more astonishing is that the New York City and Miami metropolitan areas aren't in the gay index top 10; while the cities themselves may be very gay, the surrounding areas are not.

"Of course there are exceptions, and of course there are factors that might affect the location of gays that have nothing to do with our arguments as to why that might be associated with the Milken index," says Gates. "And there are factors that have to do with why high-tech locates there--for example, tax incentives or something like that--that might not necessarily have anything to do with why gays locate there. Any time you do that, you're going to have cities that don't necessarily fit the story."

Creative talent, says Gates, is America's greatest natural resource today and the most important requirement for the so-called new economy, even if it may be faltering right now. "In the old economy, steel needed coal and water and iron," he says. "The new economy is simply talent, creativity, and innovation. So new-economy firms now need to locate wherever smart, talented, or creative people live."

Are gay people smarter? No, but they do have higher education levels than the norm, according to Gates. Of course, better-educated workers can demand higher salaries and thus can afford to live in more desirable cities. It's precisely these aggressive, talented employees that high-tech firms covet.

People in these cities are good enough at what they do to choose where they live, says Martin Farach-Colton, senior research scientist at, the search engine firm based in Mountain View, Calif. "These are people who competed ferociously to live there and won," he says.

Farach-Colton and his partner recently moved to the Bay Area from Manhattan, another high-tech, high-gay zone. He says Google, like many high-tech firms famous for their pro-gay hiring policies, "is a place where everyone knows I'm gay and nobody gives a damn."

Gay people, says Farach-Colton, "are more likely to leave the farm. And if you're going to move from some horrible place, you're going to move to one of the very nicest cities, with culture, diversity, amenities, a city that's easy on the eye, with stuff to do."

But, he says, "if you're stuck living in Indianapolis and you can't get a better job somewhere else, then Google doesn't want to hire you." On the other hand, "if you're talented enough that you can live where you want to live rather than being forced to live someplace you don't necessarily want to live in, that's the kind of talent these companies want."

Briand Sanderson, program manager for the Microsoft Internet Explorer team and chairperson of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees at Microsoft (GLEAM), a 13-year-old group with more than 400 members, moved to Seattle a few years ago, only partly for its high-tech vitality.

"Microsoft was not the only reason I wanted to live in Seattle," Sanderson says. "I fell in love with Seattle over several years of business trips. The main thing that attracted me was the gay community, and each time I visited I left a part of me in Seattle. Pretty soon I just had to move out here."

Sanderson notes a "definite synergy going on between the gay and lesbian population and the high-tech industry in Seattle," which he calls a "progressive city with a large community of open-minded and educated people. High-tech workers are attracted to the area because there are a large number of job opportunities at exciting companies, including AT&T, Boeing, Nintendo,, and Microsoft. All of them are very progressive and offer diverse working environments. Almost all of them support gay and lesbian employees in various ways."

Places like Microsoft and Google have yet to be affected by the high-tech downturn and in fact are still recruiting. But dark dotcom clouds are hanging over gay heads.

"I do have friends at dotcoms that have laid off workers," Sanderson says. But the gay network may offer a cushion. "The gay and lesbian community in Seattle is fairly tight-knit," he says. "Those that have lost their jobs are probably quick to find others. Since we have the connections, people can network quickly to find positions at other companies. Obviously this can't go on forever. But for now, I think people that are laid off are able to find other high-tech jobs in the region."

But further downturns could affect gays, says Jason Brittsan, a software test engineer for Internet Explorer and the Webmaster for GLEAM: "The most significant issue facing gays and lesbians in the high-tech downturn is a reduced number of jobs in companies that are, for the most part, more accepting of their sexual orientation."

High-tech firms, Brittsan adds, "are more likely to offer benefits for same-sex domestic partners and their children than traditional companies." Losing your job at a progressive firm, he says "could necessitate employment with a company that doesn't place such a high value on diversity."


1) San Francisco
2) Washington, D.C.
3) Austin
4) Atlanta
5) San Diego
6) Seattle
7) Los Angeles
8) Boston
9) Sacramento
10) Denver


1) San Francisco
2) Boston
3) Seattle
4) Washington, D.C.
5) Dallas-Fort Worth
6) Los Angeles
7) Chicago
8) Atlanta
9) Phoenix
10) New York City

Kirby is a regular contributor to The New York Times.

Cruising for safe sex

Health officials take their message off the streets and into gay chat rooms By Lee Condon

As the Internet has become more of a sexual playground for many gay men, it's also become a breeding ground for sexually transmitted diseases.

Now health educators, who used to spend countless hours doing street outreach, are logging on to the information superhighway instead. In fact, Marcel Miranda, a deputy program director at San Francisco's Stop AIDS Project, says he is more likely to be juggling instant messages about STDs on America Online than passing out condoms in the Castro.

Miranda, who uses the screen name StopAIDSMM, says he started entering sex chat rooms a year ago as a representative of Stop AIDS after health officials linked a spike in local syphilis cases to an AOL chat room in 1999. He created an AOL profile that announced he was available to answer questions about HIV and AIDS. Then he jumped into a chat room and waited for men to come to him.

"People in San Francisco know us. They know our name. I would let men come to me, and invariably I would get questions," Miranda says. "The anonymity lends itself to honest communication, especially for people who are closeted and questioning."

The experiment was so successful that Stop AIDS applied for a grant to start a regular program. Now Stop AIDS has been awarded a 15-month $135,000 contract with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The goal is to have staff members and volunteers chat online with 300 to 400 men a month. Miranda says he has received inquiries about the program from around the country. Marty Algaze, the spokesman for Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City, says members of the organization have talked about adding an Internet chat component to that agency's outreach efforts.

Another group that has followed Stop AIDS's lead is the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which used the chat program as part of its $500,000 effort to stop a syphilis outbreak there. Mark Caffee, a spokesman for the chat room program, says online chatters were very responsive. "We were there at the point when they were looking for a hookup," Caffee says. "We used chat rooms as a way to be there when sex was on the brain."

Harlan Rotblatt, director of adolescent services for Los Angeles County's Sexually Transmitted Diseases Program, says the department was able to institute the chat room program because of an emergency allowance it was given to fight the outbreak. "Certainly, when you are dealing with a spreading disease, this worked great," Rotblatt says. Now that the outbreak is over and the money is gone, he doubts the health department will continue the program. However, he expects other agencies or nonprofits may use the pilot program as a model. "All you need is an Internet account to do this," he says.

Online educators in Los Angeles used a different strategy than the one employed by Stop AIDS. Instead of waiting for people to instant-message them, two online educators entered a chat room and started writing to each other about syphilis, using a scripted conversation. While there was some debate over whether it was appropriate to start fake conversations, ultimately health officials decided the strategy fit the culture of chat rooms. "We were just using the regular rules of the chat room," Rotblatt says. Health officials, he says, wanted to avoid a heavy-handed approach such as going into chat rooms and making proclamations.

Last year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied the risk of getting HIV and STDs from an online hookup. In one survey of adults at an HIV counseling and test center, researchers found that 16% of the respondents had used the Internet to find sex partners; most of these people had a greater likelihood of an STD history and more sexual partners than average adults. Future studies will explore the success potential of online prevention efforts.

Researchers also note that health officials have had success in reaching out to Internet sex surfers. Specifically, they say, the Internet has provided an easy means for officials to alert people to occurrences such as the syphilis outbreaks in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Robert Kohn, an epidemiologist at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, says coping with the 1999 rash of syphilis cases in that city served as the starting point for the agency's Internet-related endeavors. Since then the department has conducted regular outreach efforts on and PlanetOut, including the posting of information about STDs and HIV transmission. However, Kohn says, "it's impossible to say who reads that and what effect it has on people." It is also impossible to know how much impact Internet outreach has in stemming outbreaks.

Multicity studies currently under way, Kohn says, are taking a more comprehensive look at the spread of HIV and other STDs from sex that is initiated in chat rooms. "All it takes is one little contamination in that pool," Kohn says. "You don't know how big that pool is until you drain it."

As a Web surfer in his personal life, Miranda says he knew how to position himself online to get "lurkers" to contact him. "There's very little chat going on," he says. "Everything tends to happen through instant messages. Online there are lurkers who check out the profiles of guys inside the rooms."

The Stop AIDS profiles include key words like "butt sex," "partying," "raw sex," "barebacking," and "safe sex." That way, if Internet users type in those words, a Stop AIDS profile will be one of the hits they get. Typical Stop AIDS profiles include lines like "Instant-message me if you'd like to talk about butt sex, raw sex, sucking, partying with crystal, HIV, condoms, where to meet guys."

Miranda says the organization makes a point of avoiding clinical descriptions such as "anal insertive" or "oral receptive" when discussing sex. Instead, he says, "we give men permission to talk about sex."

So far, the response to their efforts has been overwhelmingly positive, Miranda says. Most people ask about HIV and oral sex, STDs, and the relation of sexual risk to drug usage, he says, adding that many conversations are in-depth. Often chatters are referred to health service providers.

"Sometimes it's very slow. Sometimes it's very busy," Miranda says. "Sometimes I will have to juggle three or four instant messages at a time. Luckily, I'm a fast typist."

Chipping away at prejudice

A pioneer whose work paved the way for today's computers, transsexual Lynn Conway helped to start the high-tech revolution By Sarah Wildman

Lynn Conway is transitioning. Again. Just back from a speaking tour at Hewlett-Packard in Fort Collins, Colo., Conway is brimming over with ideas for expanding diversity and tolerance in the tech world. Becoming a corporate advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people would add to a long list of titles for the soft-spoken woman from the Ann Arbor, Mich., area. Conway is already professor emerita of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, a distinguished computer engineer, and a pioneer in the field of "very large-scale integrated" (VLSI) circuits, the design work that laid the foundation for today's Pentium chip. She also advanced a breakthrough in supercomputers while employed at IBM back in the '60s; she's credited with coming up with the technology to allow computers to simultaneously perform multiple tasks even if these tasks aren't in sequential order. But that last achievement was unknown to all of Conway's colleagues until this past year--because when Conway was with IBM she was a man named Robert.

Lynn Conway has always known she was a woman. Born into a boy's body, Conway says she felt her gender was wrong as far back as she can remember. When she was a teenager, the feeling that she was trapped in the wrong body became more and more intense. "In my teens," she says, "I would get these incredible longings to have boys want me. As a girl. But what are you going to do without the right genitals?" By the time she went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early '50s, her angst had deepened. Conway had friends steal pharmaceuticals for her. She mixed her own estrogen and began to date men. But a visit to a psychiatrist during this period ended her experimentation. "I was threatened with institutionalization," says Conway.

Depressed, Conway dropped out of school in her senior year and moved to San Francisco, where she stayed until the estrogen ran out. Forced to resume life as a man, she returned to her parents' house in New York State. Eventually Conway reenrolled in school--Columbia University--and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science. In the meantime a relationship with a woman produced a child. Conway wanted the child but not the relationship, and she felt trapped: married, supporting a wife and child, living as a man. She was desperate to investigate the new sex-reassignment surgeries just being discussed.

It was during this brief period in the mid '60s that Conway was hired to work on the secret Project Y at IBM. There the great challenge of the computer world--how to get the machine to execute multiple, out-of-order tasks--was met by the young computer engineer with just a master's degree. But professional achievements were not enough. Conway, now the father of two daughters, couldn't take the dual identity any longer. Suicidal, she contacted a doctor in 1967 about hormone therapy, and she had sex-reassignment surgery the next year. (Back then, Conway says, the other transsexuals she met were an "exotic, tiny handful of very, very beautiful female impersonators. Almost no one middle- or upper-class" had the surgery.)

Conway assumed that although her body had changed, other aspects of her life would remain the same. She was wrong. In 1968 IBM management was not ready for Robert to become Lynn. "They were worried about publicity," Conway sighs. "Back in the early, pioneering days, there was a lot of confusion. People thought it was an extreme form of homosexuality." She was fired. Her family was forced to go on welfare. And her wife, torn between supporting the man she married and the woman he had become, was thrown into a panic by family members and social service agencies who told her that Conway was a deviant who would hurt their children. Though she'd promised to let Conway stay in their children's lives, she changed her mind.

So Conway was an accomplished research scientist with no resume to prove it and a parent unable to contact her children. "I had a very promising career going," she says. "I was considered a serious researcher, as though I had a Ph.D."--because of her remarkable work on Project Y. But while Columbia allowed her to change the name on her diplomas and someone at IBM vouched that she had worked there, no one would allow her to discuss the project in which she had played such a key role. Doors kept slamming in her face until she decided she would no longer tell anyone that she was a transsexual.

"I started as a contract programmer and scratched my way back up the ladder," she says now. But as a woman, Conway was so much "more fully alive," as she puts it, that she was able to be much more successful. A series of jobs led her in 1973 to Xerox, where she worked with Carver Mead, an engineering professor at the California Institute of Technology. Together they reenvisioned the design for VLSI and wrote a textbook that would be used by chip designers and computer engineering students.

But Conway never let on about her previous life. Not at Xerox; not at the Defense Department, where she also worked in research involving "machine intelligence technology" (such as weaponry used in the Gulf War); and not at the University of Michigan. Conway's parents died without recognizing her as their daughter, her father in 1967, without knowing of her transition; her mother in 1977, never approving of it. But when her oldest daughter turned 18, Conway began to reach out to her children. And 13 years ago she finally met a man who didn't run away when he learned about her past.

As the work Conway did in the '60s became more integrated into the technological advances of the '80s and '90s, Lynn became frustrated that her role in the computer revolution had been overlooked. Then she saw a Web site created by Mark Smotherman, an associate professor of computer science at Clemson University, that asked if anyone out there knew anything about Project Y. It was Conway's chance to reclaim her standing and to show her former managers and friends that she had flourished as a woman. Eventually she told Smotherman everything. "It caused quite a flap in the computing community," Conway says.

But it was a Los Angeles Times Magazine story published last November that has put Lynn further out then she has ever been. And suddenly she sees a new opportunity to use her story, as painful as parts of it have been, to benefit others in the tech world and in the transgendered population. At Hewlett-Packard, she says, "we talked a lot about fear" as well as what Conway sees as the benefits of a richly diverse working environment: In the hothouse tech world, where imagination is the biggest asset, no one can afford to exclude anyone else. "I came away thinking more open support, awareness, and comfort with GLBT people [minus] the fear of visibility would add a wonderful diversity," she explains. As a happy, successful woman at the peak of her career, she says, "what I can do with my story is help put a little fresh air about those issues and become an advocate for thinking about what diversity means."


A guide, to Web pages from other countries

YOU DON'T NEED to take a round-the-world trip to see just how international the gay rights movement is. All you need is a computer. More than 50 nations are represented on Web sites that provide interesting insights into what it is like to be gay or lesbian in various countries, from liberal nations like the Netherlands and Germany to virulently hostile lands like Iran and Zimbabwe.

Many of the sites require visitors to be fluent in the native language, so your appreciation of certain sites may depend on your expertise in Czech, Portuguese, or Croatian. Still, you can get the flavor of gay life despite the language barrier. And a surprising number of sites from non-English-speaking countries are available in English.

For a list of links to overseas sites, go to The list was compiled through search engines, mentions in magazine articles, and the excellent book Gay & Lesbian Online, 4th Edition by Jeff Dawson, which has more than 3,700 listings of domestic and foreign gay sites.

--Michael Collins

Wildman is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who has contributed to The Washington Post and The New Republic.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Liberation Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 13, 2001
Previous Article:That earthquake lady.

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