Discrimination of LGBTQ+ in STEM; a problem known but never discussed

This article may make you understand how the LGBTQ+ community is not only harassed and discriminated against in their daily lives but is also subjected to discrimination when it comes to science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM).

STEM is basically based on technology and practicality. But are the people working in these professions always follow the rules?

In a survey conducted by the Institute of Physics, Royal Astronomical Society, and Royal Society of Chemistry, it was found that 28 percent of the LGBTQ+ respondents have considered resigning from their workplace at some point due to discrimination against the community.

It also found that around 16 percent of the respondents had experienced harassment personally or other discriminatory behaviour. Also, 30 percent of the respondents did report to being a witness to the discriminatory behaviour. According to the survey, most discrimination was faced by Trans and non-binary people. The people working in chemistry have reported more discrimination than people working in physics or astronomy.

Why do we need more LGBTQ+ scientists?

Science is a field of practical knowledge and innovation which leads to discovery. Discovery comes with a belief that there is more. If that is the case, then why are these same scientists having so much trouble getting used to the fact that another community exists with multiple different genders?

This can be said and will be true that in STEM, although the discrimination is prominent, the figures are not as ghastly as they are in other professions like sports and politics. But it does need improvement.

The main reason for the addition of LGBTQ+ members in STEM is that they could provide a different view based on their different experiences. Ben Barres can be taken as an example for this, he was a neurobiologist and an advocate for women in science. He was also an openly transgender person working at Standford University School of Medicine, California, and an explorer of the functions of glia, which is the richest and the most mysterious cell in the brain.

Barres greatly contributed to the discussion on women’s issues in science and their poor treatment. He did speak from experience as he was a transgender male.

Diversity can always result in multiple points of view which further contribute to a free and safe environment.

Secondly, the inclusion of more diversity can also create safety for the people already working there. The problem surfaces due to a lack of awareness and a failing in recognising the problem, in the first place. There should be proper guidelines regarding the way of addressing a person of the LGBTQ+ community.

Thirdly, the question is, why not? They are people, and their sexuality is legal, their existence is very much legal, and fear of being discriminated against or harassed shouldn’t even exist. The LGBTQ+ community is not part of the problem, the people who don’t understand and fail to take responsibility to treat fellow humans with respect are the ones who are a problem. STEM is a career associated with knowledge, skills, intelligence, and practicality, it should not matter who the person working in the field is and what is their sexuality.

At the Cambridge Science Festival in 2018, Dr. Alfredo Carpineti who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community himself spoke about the issue concerning a lack of people in STEM and the harassment the community faces.

He put out some uncomfortable but unfortunately true statistics stating that less than 60 percent of the LGBTQ+ people in STEM are out with their sexuality. Half of the total transgender or gender non-conforming people have at some point been harassed in their department. He also pointed out that lesbian, bisexual and gay students are 10 percent less likely to enter a STEM career than their straight peers.

He also put forward the idea of spreading awareness in the departments regarding this issue, not just for the LGBTQ+ but for diversity in general.

In the same year, Dr. Alfredo Carpineti with other organisations launched the LGBTSTEM Day. Apart from this, he is also the founder of the Pride in STEM charitable trust.

LGBTSTEM Day and the Pride in STEM

The LGBTSTEM Day is specifically celebrated to empower the people from the LGBTQ+ community who work in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics field all over the world. This year, the LGBTSTEM day will be celebrated on November 18, 2020.

The day was initially decided to be celebrated on July 5 every year. The change of date came after an open survey was conducted due to criticism of anti-LGBTQ+ people. They complained that the community had taken up the whole month of June as the pride month and are now trying to take up July 5th too.

Hence after a lot of discussions, it was decided that the third LGBTSTEM day would be celebrated on the 60th anniversary of the American Astronomer and gay activist Frank Kameny’s US Supreme Court fight against workplace discrimination. The fight still continues not only in the US but all over the world too.

Kameny was also a civil rights leader, a World War II veteran, and a Harvard educated doctor of astronomy with the US Army Map Service. He fought against discrimination and his activism led to the first gay demonstration for equal rights at the White House in 1965. Kemeny also introduced the slogan, “Gay is Good”, against the negative stereotypes of gay and lesbian people. In 1971, he became the first openly gay candidate for Congress.

Pride in STEM

It is a charitable trust run by an independent group of LGBT+ scientists and engineers from around the world. The trust focuses on showing that not everyone fits in that generalised view that has been created in the field of STEM and also they don’t have to.

The trust functions on three core values, visibility, intersectionality and improvement. Visibility highlight issues and strategies to bring those changes forward. Pride in STEM aims to provide a platform and support for LGBTQ people in STEM which will improve their visibility. This will also provide a voice for those members of the community who are not out yet.

According to their official website, they are also committed to support and deliver intersectional changes to STEM disciplines. Underrepresented groups might belong to different gender identities, have different gender expressions, sexual orientations, ethnicities. They might have disabilities. They might belong to different socio-economic backgrounds. STEM needs to be accessible to all and all should feel that they belong in STEM.

It is a small organisation run by volunteers who are committed to constantly review its work. They also critically assess their work and make the required changes.

The site also encourages other people to participate as well.

LGBTQ+ is a community that has been struggling for a long time. It is now the time that people are given a break from their ongoing struggle and promoted in society for being bold enough to be who they want to be, without fear.

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