The battle in the STEM world for the LGBTQ community

By: Jasper Scelsi, Columnist

Think back to all your years of school and college. Have you ever had a STEM teacher or professor that was LGBTQ? 

For many, including myself, the answer is either “no” or at least “not to my knowledge.” LGBTQ people are severely underrepresented in STEM. Estimates suggest that LGBTQ people are 17–21% less represented in STEM fields than expected. There are also very few teaching it, and those that are out in their identities are often put under a microscope or discriminated against. 

One gay assistant professor mentioned how he had been outed by coworkers before, was told he wouldn’t get into PhD programs if he continued to “look” the way he did, and repeatedly asked if he had a wife as a way for people to truly ask “are you gay?” 

And let’s say he wanted to share that he was, what would he do then?  Mention his boyfriend or husband? What if he was single? Put a rainbow flag in his office? What if that is seen as political? What if sharing the fact that he’s gay puts a target on his back for homophobia? Science is a field of innovation, but sometimes minds are less than progressive.

In a 2016 study, researchers found that 11% of LGBT men experienced harassment for their sexuality or gender identity, as well as 31% of LGBT women, 42% of gender non-conforming people, and 49% of trans people. Researching for this article, I saw that figure and paused for a moment. Almost exactly half of all transgender scientists have been harassed for their gender identity. Half! That surprised me for a moment, until it didn’t. 

I’ve experienced harassment from other STEM majors about my gender, who said trans people are “tricking” cis people when they don’t share that they’re trans. My boyfriend has repeatedly been asked for his birth name by another physics major, even when he asks him to stop. That’s mild, but still disconcerting. Why is this happening? Why are so many people harassed just for being true to themselves?

Even though harassment is so common, I’m lucky to want to be a scientist in this time period as opposed to before. In 1953, Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 which prevented LGBTQ people from holding federal jobs, which wasn’t overturned until 1975. This means I couldn’t have worked for NASA, which is my eventual goal. Not only are there people holding us back, there are systems in place that prevent LGBTQ scientists from thriving.

Jon Freeman, the gay professor mentioned before, wrote “In science, it’s so critical to have, for underrepresented groups, role models and peers, and other people that look like you and are like you.” 

Because of discrimination and the fear of it, many LGBTQ aspiring scientists don’t have this. You can do your part by being a strong ally to the community. There is something on campus called “Ally Training” which “provides resources, tools and strategies for supporting LGBTQ+ communities” and can help you better understand and uplift the community. 

Fight for official representation. TU doesn’t know how much funding to give to LGBTQ communities because it doesn’t ask if someone wishes to disclose they are LGBTQ in the admissions process, which means LGBTQ people don’t officially exist on campus. Email someone higher up about that and say that should change. This can help people feel more safe being out in science.

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