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…)
Madina Wane reflects on the value of creating an inclusive research culture where everyone in society can feel they can participate and benefit from STEM.
The modern seat belt is a simple but extremely effective innovation that has been saving lives since the 1960s. It is estimated to reduce the risk of death by up to 50% and with over 1 million road traffic deaths per year globally, the seat belt is clearly an important development. With such an impact it is easy to neglect scrutiny of this technology, but we must ask the question: are we all equally protected?
When crash test dummies first became required in the 1960s, US regulators wanted manufacturers to use two types – one based on male physical proportions, and one based on female proportions. However, after several years, regulators conceded and manufacturers were able to use just one dummy, reflecting the ‘average’ male. 50 years on and the consequences of this are clear. A study in 2011, from the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics, determined that female drivers were 47% more likely to suffer severe injuries compared to their male counterparts. Many studies have also highlighted the increased incidence of whiplash in female drivers.
Although the use of female dummies has since been adopted, these are simply smaller versions of male dummies, not accounting for anatomical differences between the sexes. In addition, the female dummy is based on proportions of the smallest 5% of females, rather than the average. To add even more pitfalls, the ‘female’ dummies are still not used to the same extent as their male counterparts, with male dummies predominantly used in the driver’s seat and female dummies more often used in the passenger seat.(more…)
In celebration of LGBT STEM Day, Dr Akif Khawaja shares the small things everyone can do to make STEM more LGBT-inclusive.
With the glitter of the Mighty Hoopla weekend – a LGBT-friendly pop music festival – having finally settled, all eyes are now set on Pride. For many this will mean another (hopefully sunny) weekend of short shorts, tank tops and daytime drinking. In addition to the parade, especially in London, pride month is chock-a-block of events highlighting all aspects of LGBT+ culture and history. This year, Pride in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has been helping to showcase and support LGBT+ people within the STEM fields by organising LGBT STEM Day.
So, what is Pride in STEM and what is LGBT STEM Day?
Starting with the easy one – Pride in STEM is a charitable trust run by an independent group of LGBT+ scientists and engineers. Founded in 2016, Pride in STEM was the brainchild of Dr Alfredo Carpineti, his husband Chris, and Matt Young. They aim to support all LGBT+ people spanning all of STEM and in doing so, raise their profiles and showcase their work. Now as for LGBT STEM day, this was their latest effort to promote the dissemination of work done by LGBT+ STEM staff. It falls on Friday 5 July 2019 (I’m told purposefully chosen as 507nm is the wavelength of the green stripe in the pride flag – 5.07 … get it?!) and the day before the Pride in London Parade. (more…)
Siena Castellon, a 16-year-old award-winning autism advocate, makes the case for why diversity should be expanded to include neurodiversity.
Most universities have embraced diversity. They recognise that having students and faculty with diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives leads to increased creativity, innovation and productivity. However, most universities, focus their diversity initiatives on race, ethnicity and gender. Universities also prioritise initiatives that aim to improve social mobility, which is why many of the STEM work placements or summer school programs are only available to students from low-income families. Although it is important to address the under-representation of Black and Minority Ethnic students (BME), women and students from disadvantaged backgrounds, it is just as important to include people who are neurodivergent – a minority group that is often forgotten. (more…)
What does it take to achieve a fair balance of women in science? Sophie Arthur shares her views on addressing the gender balance in STEM.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science and International Women’s Day have both come and gone in 2019 already, so why write this piece now? These discussions about celebrating the achievements of women in science, providing them with the recognition they deserve and the fight for more representation across all STEM fields are conversations we need to keep having all year round. Not solely on international awareness days.
Women in STEM and their achievements often go under the radar. After all, while Alan Turing was breaking the Enigma code, Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr was taking a break from the silver screen and inventing a radio guidance system that ended up being the precursor to our modern-day Bluetooth & Wi-Fi. Also, while male scientists Andre Geim and Kostantin Novoselov may have won the Nobel Prize for working with graphene, Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar 40 years earlier. So, it is well past time for us to reset the balance. (more…)
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.
Katie Stripe gives a personal account of why she wears the rainbow lanyard to make herself visible to others who may need to see gay people doing normal things.
I could start by telling you what I identify as, but I don’t think that is important. The defining features of my character are more about what I am like as a person; sarcastic, grumpy, caring, funny, and what I do; I like to lift heavy weights, play hockey, take photographs, go on holiday and I did my first triathlon at 35 and now I am hooked (or mad). I am also a learning technologist and a learning designer, I build stuff online and develop learning materials and environments for students at Imperial’s National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI). Having said all that I am writing this because as a gay member of the Imperial community I think it is important that I am visible to people who may need to see gay people doing normal things. (more…)
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of their wisdom.
Our first wise woman, Dr Faith Uwadiae, highlighted success stories of Black scientists on her Twitter account every day throughout Black History Month 2018. In this post, she tells us what led to her taking action.
I have been in the university academic system for almost a decade and in this time I have interacted with very few Black scientists. I have met a handful of Black PhD students and research assistants or technicians, one postdoctoral scientist, but sadly I’ve never been lectured by a Black scientist. When I attend scientific conferences or events I am frequently one of the few Black people in the room and often the only Black woman. In fact, Black professors are heavily underrepresented making up just 0.6% of UK professors, of which only 25 are Black female professors. Sadly, when people think about a scientist they don’t picture someone like me, i.e. Black, female and young, and instead default to the White, male and old archetype.
Scientists are much more diverse and I wanted to learn more about the stories of people like me. (more…)
Dr Rahma Elmahdi is a clinical academic who joined Imperial College London as a medical student. Here she reflects on the significance of diversity and inclusion at the College for Black History Month.
I loved my time at Imperial both as an undergraduate and postgraduate student. Being a student here I was exposed to a host of incredible opportunities that only an institution like Imperial can offer. Despite this, there were many moments when I felt both isolated and lonely as a young black woman studying here. As well as the very many good times, I recall living with a chronic sense of being ‘other’ and feeling that to pass as a true Imperial student, I should endeavour to look and sound like my white, affluent peers as much as possible. (more…)
In celebration of Black History Month, medical student Yasmin Adelekan-Kamara shares her story on how she pursued her passion for medicine.
I still vividly remember the moment I decided to apply to medical school. It was not a decision that was easy for me, and this worried me having seen how natural it was for some of my peers to pursue medicine. Despite my genuine interest and passion there was always a doubt in my mind that I could never be the ‘ideal’ medical student I thought a university like Imperial wanted.
Rethinking medical school
Whilst I loved medicine, I also had a love for other vocations; journalism and architecture especially. This caused a great internal conflict for me. I believed to be the ‘ideal’ medical student, you had to initially be solely devoted to and have an unwavering commitment to medicine. Did the fact that I was questioning my decision mean I was not dedicated enough? (more…)