CLOSE
Original image
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

11 LGBT Pioneers You Should Know

Original image
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The battle for gay rights was being fought, slowly but surely, for decades before marriage equality became law in the United States in 2015. Generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists paved the way for the progress we see today. From politicians to TV stars, here are 11 trailblazers worth knowing.

1. EDITH WINDSOR

The overturning of section 3 of the Defense Against Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013 changed the lives of thousands of couples, and it was spurred by one woman from New York. Edith Windsor married Thea Spyer, her partner of 40 years, in Canada in 2007. Though the marriage was recognized above the border and in New York (which started recognizing out-of-state gay marriages in 2008), U.S. law prohibited the women from reaping the same benefits as other married couples in the States. Windsor felt this first-hand when Spyer died in 2009, leaving her with $363,000 in estate taxes and without hope for exemption. Instead of accepting this, she sued the federal government, arguing that the section of DOMA defining marriage as a union between a man and woman was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court eventually agreed, and on June 26, 2013 Windsor and Spyer's marriage was recognized. Windsor remarried in September 2016—and this time the ceremony was in her home country.

2. ELLEN DEGENERES

Ellen DeGeneres made television history when she announced she was gay in 1997. Hours after appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show show, after having come out to TIME magazine earlier in the month, DeGeneres’s fictional sitcom counterpart of the same name followed suit in a two-part special episode of Ellen. The reveal was almost as significant for Ellen the character as it was for Ellen the real-life comedian: in the mid-'90s, LGBT characters—especially well-rounded, relatable ones—were practically non-existent in prime-time. The "Puppy Episode" opened the door for several more television programs starring openly gay characters. Today, Ellen continues to light up screens on her daytime talk show while remaining an active supporter of LGBT rights.

3. BAYARD RUSTIN

501449-GettyImages-78877416.jpg

Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in 1964.
Getty / Express / Stringer

Bayard Rustin was instrumental in one of the greatest civil rights demonstrations in history. In 1963, he worked with Martin Luther King Jr. to organize the March on Washington, then in the 1980s he redirected his focus to a different cause. "Gay people are the new barometer for social change," he said in a speech in 1986. He died the following year, but his extensive activism work included fighting for the passage of New York’s gay rights bill and urging the NAACP to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic.

4. BARBARA GITTINGS

The concept of "gay rights" was virtually nonexistent in buttoned-up 1950s America. But that didn’t stop Barbara Gittings from carving out a space for gay women like her where she saw the need for one. She founded the New York chapter of America's first lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, in 1958 when she was 26 years old, and in the 1960s she picketed to end discrimination against gay employees in the federal government. But perhaps the greatest legacy she left behind is the American Library Association’s bibliography of literature about gays and lesbians, one of the first collections of its kind.

5. AARON FRICKE

In spring of 1980, Aaron Fricke looked forward to attending prom with the rest of his classmates at Cumberland High in Rhode Island. But unlike his peers, Fricke hoped to go with a date of the same gender. Once the principal caught wind of the plan he made his stance clear: No same-sex couples would be allowed into the event. Fricke challenged his school in court and won the right to attend prom with his male date—the judge even required his school to provide enough security to keep them safe from harassment. Fricke v. Lynch is now considered a landmark case in the fight for LGBT student rights.

6. MARTINA NAVRATILOVA

501449-GettyImages-52017436.jpg

Martina Navratilova after winning Wimbledon in 1982.
STAFF / AFP / Getty Images

In 1981, Czech-American tennis star Martina Navratilova was at the top of her game—she had won Wimbledon twice already and was about to start a record-breaking string of nine Wimbledon final appearances. Then she put her career and celebrity status in jeopardy by coming out, first as bisexual and then as a lesbian. Navratilova estimates that she lost millions in endorsement deals following her revelation. Despite the financial setback, she continued to dominate the tennis court while using her star power to advocate for gay rights. In 1992, she joined other activists in a lawsuit challenging a Colorado amendment that banned extending civil rights protections to gay people.

7. HARVEY MILK

Nearly 40 years after his assassination, Harvey Milk remains one of the most well-known figures of the gay rights movement. He rose to prominence in the late 1970s when he became California’s first openly gay person elected to public office. As a community leader in San Francisco, Milk supported the rights of gay teachers, sponsored anti-discrimination legislation, and fostered LGBT-run businesses. In 2009, his nephew Stuart Milk founded the Harvey Milk Foundation to continue his fight for equality.

8. MARSHA JOHNSON

The Stonewall Riot of 1969, in which a late-night raid of a prominent New York City gay bar devolved into a violent struggle between patrons and police, is largely seen as the driving event behind the gay rights movement. Today Stonewall is recognized as a national monument, but the names of many of the men and women who led the unrest are still missing from history books. Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman from New Jersey, was on the front lines that night according to eyewitness accounts. After she helped spark a national resistance, Johnson continued to support LGBT communities during the AIDS crisis. According to Mic, she joined the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power in the 1980s, which, among other things, fought to lower the price of HIV/AIDS medication.

9. LEONARD MATLOVICH

501449-GettyImages-107734311.jpg

Grave of Vietnam veteran Leonard Matlovich.
Getty / Mark Wilson / Staff

Leonard Matlovich wasn’t the first gay man to serve in the military, but he may have been the first to come out on such a public platform. For most of his life, including his years spent in Vietnam, Matlovich kept his true sexuality a secret from the world. Then in 1975, he decided to come out to his superiors. An interview with The New York Times soon followed, and then a famous appearance on the cover of TIME magazine that displayed his portrait above the words "I Am a Homosexual." The story attracted plenty of backlash, but it also initiated a conversation many people were hesitant to have at the time. Matlovich’s admission eventually led to his discharge from the Air Force, where he had continued to serve as a race relations counselor after returning to the States. He died of complications from AIDS at age 44, and his gravestone in Washington D.C.’s Congressional cemetery reads: "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."

10. RICHARD ISAY

Even after the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as an illness in 1973, the stigma persisted in the medical community. Gay patients were often approached as sick individuals who needed to be cured. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Dr. Richard Isay was one of the first prominent psychiatrists/psychoanalysts to encourage his gay patients to accept themselves rather than deny their feelings. Isay, a gay man himself, was already an established mental health professional when he came out of the closet. He was ostracized by his colleagues, but he continued to present his then-radical notions about homosexuality at meetings and in his writings nonetheless. Attitudes shifted in 1992, when Isay teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union to threaten the American Psychoanalytic Association with a discrimination lawsuit. The APA agreed to start treating analysts the same regardless of their sexuality and to promote education on the subject within the network.

11. LAVERNE COX

GettyImages-451144530.jpg

Laverne Cox speaks at an event.
Larry Busacca / Staff / Getty

Laverne Cox has already made history several times throughout her career. In 2014, her role on Orange is the New Black earned her the first Emmy nomination for an openly trans actor, and in 2017 she became the first transgender regular to play a trans character on broadcast TV with CBS’s Doubt. When she isn’t blazing trails as an actor, she’s working off-screen to bolster LGBT rights as a film producer and motivational speaker.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
© Nintendo
arrow
fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
Original image
© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES