Mary Ann Horton: a pioneer in many ways
Mary Ann Horton, born as Mark, soon discovered from a young age that she was drawn to the magical world of technology. Along with this discovery, there was also another revelation. Mark enjoyed dressing in women’s clothes, which he soon realized was not acceptable by his family and wider community.
In 1981 she got her Ph.D. in Computer Science at Berkeley where she was an active part of the early UNIX development days that led to the development of Sun Microsystems, Cisco routers, Linux, and the Internet. She worked persistently on the evolution of UUCP (Unix-to-Unix Copy) and the first email attachments (uuencode).
After her graduation she moved to work for Bell Labs in Columbus, Ohio.
By then, she was working on Usenet groups (today known as Google Groups) and innovating by maintaining widely used Usenet Service Maps in ASCII and publishing them to the net. These maps supported the manual routing of data required across the growing number of networked computers.
In the meantime, she got married to her first wife Karen, but she couldn’t ignore the need to cross dress. They got divorced a few years later with Mary Ann being awarded full custody of their two boys. She then started dating a young lady from Bell Labs named Beth.
In 1996 Bell Labs become the R&D part of Lucent and four years later it spun-off Avaya where Many Ann continued working for some time. There, she was a passionate founding member of EQUAL! the LGBT employee community at Lucent, where she managed to add transgender language to Lucent’s EO policy. Today, EQUAL! remains an active employee resource group for Nokia employees who work under the benefits and protections afforded them through Mary Ann’s pioneering efforts.
Lucent’s anti-discrimination policy finally made it safe for her to come out and start going to work as Many Ann.
“My friends were pointing out to me that I seemed much happier as Mary Ann than as Mark.”
This was also the time when she started to become a more serious activist.
She was a keen supporter for transgender rights and as a result she won the Trailblazer Outie award, for her work to get Lucent and Avaya to add transgender language to the EO policy and activism for transgender health benefits.
“I’d been advocating for corporate EO policies to include “gender identity and expression” for years. Once that was well under way, I shifted to advocating for Transgender Health Benefits.”
When she returned back to Columbus, Mary Ann separated from Beth and started undergoing the medical and legal steps to become a woman and furthered her advocacy efforts.
Mary Ann went on to support various local and national initiatives such as the Lutherans Concerned, NOW (National Organization of Women) and lobbied for the passage of the ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act). She also co-founded “It’s Time, Ohio” while also serving on the board of Stonewall Columbus, the local LGBT Community Center. Mary Ann also presented at national conferences such as Out & Equal advocating for other companies to follow Lucent’s example.
“I kept showing up to groups adding the “T” to “GLB”.”
11 months after leaving Avaya, she went to work for Bank One, which eventually became part of Chase as an openly transgender person.
The remarkable courage and strength of Mary Ann helped change the course of history for transgender people around the world and we couldn’t be prouder to have played a role in yet another transformation: the shift towards a more inclusive corporate culture.
Mary Ann has now retired and lives happily with her partner Katie in San Diego, writing a memoir and continuing to offer inspiration through her life journey.