What it feels like to be queer in the Earth Sciences?

Authors: Jessica Salas (she/her) and Meghomita Das (she/her)

Two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (2SLGBTQIA+) individuals scientists face higher rates of workplace discrimination, exclusion, harassment, assault, and more than their straight colleagues in their professional and academic environments. 

In June 2019, The Institute of Physics, Royal Astronomical Society, and Royal Society of Chemistry surveyed more than 600 scientists working in academia and industry. The purpose of the survey was to explore the working place for 2SLGBTQIA+ people in the UK and Ireland. The survey reported that 18% of the 2SLGBTQIA+ responders have experienced exclusionary behavior in their workplace, while 30% of all respondents have reported witnessing exclusionary behavior towards 2SLGBTQIA+ community members. 

2SLGBTQIA+ people are misrepresented in STEM due to a reinforced heteronormative standard in science careers. The lack of visibility of 2SLGBTQIA+ members is strengthened by a STEM culture that encourages 2SLGBTQIA+ people to remain closeted at work.  A 2013 survey found that more than 40% 2SLGBTQIA+ identified respondents working in STEM are not out to their colleagues.  The fact that scientists interact within an international community that includes many less inclusive cultures is one of the most common reasons why 2SLGBTQIA+ people keep themselves closeted. 

Sciences that have a significant field-based component, like the geosciences, pose an additional challenge for members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Field-based sciences are riddled with cases of sexual harassment and assault during fieldwork. Alison Olcott and Matthew Downen conducted an online survey of geoscientists to understand the diversity in the field. Part of the survey also asked specific questions about fieldwork and remote research. Their survey showed that almost 55% of respondents indicated that the researcher did not feel safe because of their identity, expression, or presentation while doing fieldwork. A third of the respondents refused to do fieldwork due to concerns about personal safety related to their identity. As of July 2020, there are 72 countries where homosexuality is illegal, and many other countries or parts of countries where it is not illegal but the culture is not 2SLGBTQIA+ friendly. There is also a lack of faculty and department support for 2SLGBTQIA+ graduate students who are pursuing fieldwork in these countries. There should be awareness programs available for institutions and faculties related to safety issues associated with fieldwork and the potential dangers to 2SLGBTQIA+ geoscientists at field sites. 

The rainbow flag, as designed by Daniel Quasar in 2018.
Photo credits: iambirmingham.co.uk

This invisibility of 2SLGBTQIA+ in STEM, and the lack of prominent 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals in faculty and leadership positions, leads to a lack of mentorship for current and future generations. It causes a sense of isolation within STEM that could potentially alter a person’s career trajectory within the field. As we move towards more inclusive policies and initiatives in STEM, we should engage with the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities to understand and develop training programs and resources that will address their representation in STEM. Some things to start of could include: 2SLGBTQIA+ specific mentorship programs, dedicated funds for graduate students to attend conferences like Gay AGU* (American Geophysical Union), field safety training programs in the department, and using gender-neutral lesson plans in class. While looking for more visibility, online 2SLGBTQIA+ in STEM communities are becoming more important to fight back against the reality that STEM has offered to this community over the past decades. Below you can find links to the most popular online 2SLGBTQIA+ in STEM communities:

-Out in STEM: https://www.ostem.org/

-500 queer scientist: https://500queerscientists.com/

Recommend reading and references:


*Gay AGU: This year, AGU 2020 had a special session and panel related to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Policies in Geosciences, and 2sLGBTQIA+ representations were discussed during that session. Unfortunately, the authors were not able to find a dedicated link for Gay AGU.

One response to “What it feels like to be queer in the Earth Sciences?”

  1. […] En  las carreras de STEM, los miembros de la comunidad 2SLGBTQIA+ carecen de representación (» What it feels like to be queer in the Earth Sciences? GéoBlog (mcgill.ca)). Por lo tanto, la visibilidad para las personas de la comunidad 2SLGBTQIA+ en STEM es crucial, ya […]

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