Author: Karim Boustani

Navigating LGBTQ+ discrimination in academia: where do we go from here?

Originally published in The Biochemist, Karim Boustani and Kirk Taylor discuss their experiences of being LGBTQ+ in bioscience, the various types of discrimination that LGBTQ+ scientists may face in academia and some of the existing initiatives and campaigns in place to combat this.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this article, we want to make clear that this piece is written from the perspective of two cis gay men and anyone reading this should realize that our experiences are not universal. Everyone within the community has a different journey and we cannot speak about anyone else’s experience.

We would also like to define a few terms that will be used throughout the article to help you understand the points that we make, although we would like to stress that, in this area, definitions are contested (Table 1). We use the term LGBTQ+ to refer to anyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex, or anyone who is sexually and/or gender diverse. Sexual orientation refers to whom people are attracted to and form romantic or sexual relationships with. This can be to people of the opposite sex or gender (heterosexual), same sex or gender (homosexual), both sexes or genders (bisexual), more than one sex or gender (pansexual) or lack of sexual attraction to any sex or gender (asexual). Gender identity refers to how we subjectively perceive our gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex we are assigned with at birth. Society has created a gender binary, which includes expectations of masculinity and femininity, which is applied to sex, gender identity and gender expression (i.e. the way you express your gender through clothes, hair or makeup). It is important to note that some people do not identify with this binary (e.g. non-binary individuals) and some people do not identify with some or all aspects of the gender assigned to them. As scientists, we must also recognize that our choice of indicators for biological sex categorizations are unstable (on this topic, we would encourage all to read Professor Anne Fausto-Sterling’s “Science Won’t Settle Trans Rights”). Transgender (or trans) refers to individuals whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the expectations of the gender they were assigned at birth. Being trans is not associated with a person’s sexual orientation. Those who do not identify as trans are described as cisgender. LGBTQ+ discrimination may be based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics. (more…)

STEM needs to face up to its problem with LGBT diversity

Karim Boustani argues the importance of making STEM LGBT-inclusive, from improving visibility to expanding diversity initiatives to include LGBT people.

A large barrier to the creation of an inclusive workplace in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), in my experience, is the view that being out is regarded as “unprofessional” because it is seen as too “personal”, even though most of our colleagues are “out” as being straight without issue. LGBT people tend to depoliticise themselves in the workplace because there is a commonly held view that discussions about inequality are not regarded as relevant to STEM work. The term “LGBT” will be used in this post to refer to anyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex, or who does not conform to society’s expectations in terms of sexual or gender identity and expression.

The lack of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) diversity within STEM subjects is a longstanding issue that is too often left out of conversations about broadening participation in STEM. It is estimated that LGBT people are approximately 20 per cent less represented in STEM fields than expected. Additionally, male LGBT undergraduates are much less likely to stay in STEM degrees than straight men. (more…)