Here’s a guest post from my friend and (un-indicted) co-conspirator, Moose, as part of the Diversity in Science PRIDE Carnival:
I’m not really sure what topic to cover for the Diversity in Science PRIDE carnival, but I’m writing this anyways. My visibility is more important than my what-do-I-say silence, so count me in and I’ll tell you a bit about my experiences. Another queer STEM graduate student, working to make STEM fields a more welcoming place (and trying to do kick-ass research, that too). On a linguistic note, I’m going to use “queer” and “LGBTQ” interchangeably here. I intend for all identities to be encompassed by these terms.
I’ve been able to be cautiously out for much of my undergraduate and graduate school experience. From where I sit, life doesn’t have enough LGBTQ people in STEM but it’s still pretty good. I hope (let’s make this the hypothesis) that STEM fields, academia, and broader culture in the United States are all becoming more welcoming and safer for members of the LGBTQ community. National press coverage of trans and queer issues in high schools post-dates my high school career, but I’m still on the younger end of the academic track and I’ve had pretty good experiences as a queer student in STEM.
I was able to do my undergraduate work at an extremely queer-friendly college with a strong science program. A significant percentage of the other students in my major identified as LBQT (I won’t give you numbers since the sample size is too small to be statistically reliable). I was in a safe place where I could thrive in both academic and queer communities, and close friends with the other queer majors, although I didn’t have a conscious overlap in those identities. This was a place where being queer was incidental to my science and being a science major was incidental to being queer, because our representation was far greater than the oft-cited (sans citation) statistic of one in ten. A few years later we’ve all found it more difficult, and more important, to simultaneously identify as queer and scientist when we’re living and working in spaces that are firmly heteronormative.
In my current position as a graduate student (at the same institution as grainsofsand) I haven’t been completely isolated, but I keep to a very small corner of the university and I know not all spaces here are as friendly as the one I’ve made for myself. My decision to come here was based on research, location, and climate. Meeting an out queer professor in my department before applying made it easier to eventually say yes. So I have never been completely lacking in queer contact at school, but I only knew one other LGBTQ graduate student until Queer Science was founded. We also have a group for LGBTQ graduate students in all fields, but the other queer groups here are primarily run by and for undergraduates. Graduate student attendance at campus-wide queer events doesn’t reflect the fact that graduate students make up of 30% of the student body. The intersection of the sets visibly queer, graduate student, and STEM is pretty small.
Things are pretty good right now, but enrolling here just a few years ago would have made this story different. Queer Science started meeting during my first semester at GradSchoolU after a first picnic the previous spring. Showing up at a Queer Science lunch always helps with any feelings of isolation and frustration. I’m no longer that weird queer in a geek space or that weird geek in a queer space, an entire other topic that I hope someone else has written about. I have contacts, friends, and scientific collaborators from outside my department. I was able to come into a support system that was already under construction and help build it from there. We’re still working out the kinks of scheduling–what kinds of events? where? when? how do we get people to show up?–and spreading word of our existence to people who are not on the campus LGBTQ mailing list (this includes a lot of people in STEM who have assumed that the general list doesn’t have anything to interest them or aren’t aware of its existence either), but we already have consistent lunch meet-ups, the occasional evening event, and a fledgling outreach program. We also light stuff on fire. A lot.
In the end I intend my message to be an optimistic one. Things are pretty good here, there is room for improvement. I still feel isolated sometimes, but most days I don’t. Queer Science is trying hard to make things better by offering support and visibility on our campus and in the broader community. And considering that rainbows are made of reflected and refracted light (<– scientific!), LGBTQ pride should naturally come along with science.