#LGBTQSTEMDay is spearheaded by Pride in STEM, a charitable trust founded in 2016 by Dr. Alfredo Carpineti, his husband Chris, and Matt Young, a researcher at the University of Nottingham. The date is chosen to commemorate the 60th anniversary of American Astronomer and gay activist Frank Kameny’s US Supreme Court fight against workplace discrimination after he was fired from the U.S. Army’s Army Map Service in 1958 for being gay.
Pride in STEM organized different talks and events through the week in order to open up discussion around this topic and to help institutions and individuals fight back against discrimination. Some of the talks were at the hands of PRISMA, a Spanish association that undertakes many actions to help reduce prejudice and increase visibility of LGBT+ people and communities within STEM.
One of the talks held during the PRISMA Conference (15-17 November 2020) was "10 PRISMA measures for LGBT+ equality in research centers” by Aitor Villafranca and Sonia Estradé. The measures they present range from conceptual to actionable, from small actions to structural changes. They are divided in four blocs:
FIRST BLOCK: Discrimination and Visibility
The first block deals with the base issue of discrimination and lack of visibility of LGBT+ identities within the scientific field. In their presentation, Aitor Villafranca and Sonia Estradé showcase how the percentage of LGBT+ people who has come out as part of the collective is significantly lower in the field of engineering than biology, and even lower than in social science. They point out this relation is consistent with how many women work in a field: the higher percentage of women in a field, the safer people feel when coming out in their workplace. Scientific fields have traditionally been male-dominated, making it harder for people who exist outside of cisheteronormativity to feel confident in their workplace. In fact, a 28% of LGBT+ people who work in science in the United Kingdom have considered leaving their job in the face of discrimination in 2019). Moreover, these statistics can only have in consideration those who have successfully entered the field, but it does not include others who might have not even tried due to gatekeeping.
These are the 4 actions that can help fight discrimination and increase the visibility of LGBT+ scientists:
- Provide training in LGBT+ issues through workshops, Best Practice Manuals, etc. A very basic step since education is what makes improvement possible.
- Establish safe channels to report any cases of abuse or discrimination. The study “Exploring the workplace for LGBT+ physical scientists” found out that 11% of male LGBT+ people in the field of Physics received some form of discrimination in 2019. The number scales up to 31% for women and to 42% for people who are Gender Non Conforming.
- Give visibility to LGBT+ figures in STEM as a way of creating an inclusive environment that makes it easier for people to come out publicly in the workplace. A study in the USA showed that in 2016 a 43% of LGBT+ people in science were not publicly out in their workplace. Improving visibility of LGBT+ individuals not only would help this situation, it would also positively affect career choices for people who want to work in science but don’t see themselves represented in the field.
- Promote inclusive education that makes LGBT+ students feel safer. A study by the Science magazine found out that LGBT+ students dropped out of scientific studies at a higher rate than their peers.
SECOND BLOCK: Trans People
Discrimination against trans people is particularly insidious, in all fields, not just STEM, with statistics pointing out that 85% of all trans people in Spain are unemployed. In this context, it is clearly important to make sure that Trans scientists and researchers are not discriminated against.
To do so, PRISMA offers these measures:
- Guarantee equity of opportunity in the work market for trans people. This includes making sure no one is excluded for having a non-normative gender expression, whether they are trans or cis.
- Creating protocol and guides to aid in the transition in the workplace. This includes not only from an institutional level but also from a personal level.
- Avoidance of unnecessary binary classifications of workers in the basis of gender. This is not only exclusionary of GNC people but also puts trans people who are not publicly out in a difficult position. Examples of this include the creation of gender neutral bathrooms, and the inclusion of genderless pronouns (they/them in English, elle in Spanish) or even the option not to disclose in any forms that asks you for your gender.
THIRD BLOCK: Gender and Intersectionality
- There are many different realities within the LGBT+ collective, and a reductive comprehension of the issues at hand is usually detrimental to the less known aspects of the collective. Broadly referring to it as the Gay collective, for example, ignores the fact that different axis of discrimination happen all at one, and LBGTphobia usually combines with misogyny, or racism.
FOURTH BLOCK: Scientific Standards
- Completely reject any discourse or positioning that uses pseudoscience to justify LGBT+ discrimination, specially any kind of conversion pseudotherapy.
- Promote research and scientific discussion with teams that have a diverse point of view, which helps reduce any kind of bias and therefore improve our research. This is specially key in research that affects the LGBT+ Community, as exemplified by the fact that being trans was considered a pathology by the World Health Organization up until 2018, and still is by many people. This is caused by external stigma and could be greatly reduced if trans people were not simply the subjects of the research but part of the researching team.
Roadmap at ICMAB
There are many ways in which we can help LGBT+ researchers be more comfortable and face discrimination in the workplace. At ICMAB, we are willing to use these 10 measures as a Plan for Action for the near future. For the time being, if you have any ideas or concerns around this topic, please contact the Gender Equality Committee at ICMAB.
It’s important to remember that LGBT+ issues are not only of relevance to people in the collective, but to all of us. If you are an ally, here is a very small and quick action you can do to help today: include your pronouns in any of your profiles! That is, the pronouns people should use when referring to you. In English, simply add: he/him, if you use masculine pronouns; she/her, if you use feminine pronouns; they/them, if you use non-binary pronouns. Doing so helps normalize the idea that anyone can use any pronouns, and indicates that you probably are an ally to the LGBT+ community. You can start on your Twitter profile! You can find an example on Dr Juani Bermejo-Vega’s Twitter profile.