52 years later: IBM apologizes for firing tech pioneer, former UM professor for coming out as trans

‘Project kindness toward others [...] and they will like you,’

A Metro Detroit woman said she was fired for just being who she is, and now, decades later, the company that let her go is apologizing.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A Metro Detroit woman said she was fired for just being who she is, and now, decades later, the company that let her go is apologizing.

In the 1960s, Lynn Conway was a part of a team with IBM that revolutionized the microchip and paved the way for smartphones and spaceships. Conway was a trailblazer in technology and transgender rights. She was fired from IBM in 1968 before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that transgender people are included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Pretty much immediately fired,” Conway recalled. “Didn’t have an exit review, I was just gone. Can you believe it?”

Conway was undeterred and transitioned a few months later.

“I was terrified because I was at a precipice because if I didn’t do something, I wouldn’t have a good life,” Conway said.

The decision cost her more than a job, she lost her family too.

“Because of what happened, the way it happened, I didn’t see my kids again until they were adults,” Conway said.

She created a new identity for herself and moved to San Fransisco, where she got a job as a contract programmer, but living as her authentic self came with threats of harassment and violence.

“I wish people had a clue what they’re doing to other people,” Conway said. “They don’t have a damn clue.”

After working at DARPA, Conway eventually became a professor at the University of Michigan in 1985 and quietly came out as transgender in 1999. She would later contact IBM in hopes of being able to self-publish the research she had done while working there, and that conversation was very different from the one decades prior.

In 2018, Conway spoke at UM’s Winter Commencement.

In 2020, 52 years after Conway was fired, IBM awarded her with a lifetime achievement award and apologized.

“This crazy IBM apology story happens and partly, it’s like how did this happen?” Conway said. “I so want to convey that it’s your fears that hold you back. That if you drop them away and project kindness toward others, doesn’t matter what you look like, they will like you.”

Ann Arbor named sixth safest city in Michigan according to 2019 crime data

Tree Town can now add the title of sixth safest city in Michigan to its long list of accolades thanks to a new top 10 list by Munetrix.

An Auburn Hills-based data analytics solutions provider, Munetrix used publicly available data from Michigan State Police and the U.S. Census Bureau to see which Michigan cities with populations over 50,000 were the safest in the state.


About the Authors:

Priya joined WDIV-Local 4 in 2013 as a reporter and fill-in anchor. Education: B.A. in Communications/Post Grad in Advanced Journalism

Dane is a producer and media enthusiast. He previously worked freelance video production and writing jobs in Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Dane graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.