It’s Never Too Late to Say ‘Sorry,’ IBM Recognizes Transgender Employee Mistreatment, 52 Years Later

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Photo courtesy of forbes.com

Today, calling people by their chosen pronouns is considered a mandatory act of courtesy. Half a century ago, being part of the LGBTQ collective was even a crime.

While the world seems to have made great strides in respect and inclusion matters, there are damages done in the past that deserve to be redressed, even fifty years later.

It is never too late to say, “I’m sorry.”

In that vein, technology giant IBM summoned Lynn Conway, a pioneering 82-year-old computer engineer, to a Zoom call last month. In the presence of other company employees, senior vice president of human resources Diane Gherson offered a public apology on behalf of the company for firing her fifty years ago when it became known that Conway was a transgender person.

As reported in the New York Times, in August 1968, Conway was an up-and-coming IBM computer engineer in Sunnyvale, California, when she was called into the office of Gene Myron Amdahl, then the company’s director of advanced computer systems.

Although Amdahl had promised to support her when he learned that she was “undertaking a gender transition,” the company’s chief executive officer, Thomas J. Watson Jr., decided to fire her.

Half a century later, Gherson said that while the company now offered help and support to “transitioning employees,” no progress could compensate for the treatment she had received decades earlier.

Conway, now 82, was recognized for her “pioneering work” in the computer field, a company spokeswoman told the Times.

“It was so unexpected,” Conway said in an interview, adding that she recalled blinking back tears. “It was stunning.”

Rochelle Diamond, a scientist at the California Institute of Technology who is friends with Conway, said she learned of the apology on Friday, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was stabbed to death in 1998.

“This is important for us,” said Diamond, who is also the retired chairwoman of the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals. “It’s another reason why we need to remember and remember all of the people that have died because they were trans and to encourage trans people to be themselves.

With information from the New York Times.