On April 30th, 2019 the Rainbow Center held its first LGBTQIA+ in STEM Professional Panel Event. We invited Dr. John Redden from the Physiology and Neurobiology Department, Dr. Morgan Tingley from the Evolutionary and Ecology Department, Dr. Alix Deymier from the Biomedical Engineering Department, Steven Difalco from the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, and Seargent Jackie Twiss from UConn PD to speak about their experiences being LGBTQIA+ in the professional world.
In preparation for this event, we looked into the history of LGBTQIA+ in STEM. There was minimal written history on this topic. It was as if the community was invisible in STEM. This issue was once again addressed at the event when panelists were asked how they support their LGBTQIA+ colleagues, and their collective response was, “I wish I had more queer colleagues.” A national survey in 2013 found that more than 40% of individuals working in STEM fields are not “out” to their colleagues. While no one is ever obligated to come out, we must think about the environment we are creating in the work place that perpetuates a culture of silence which prevents so many people from comfortably speaking about their identities. A snowball effect is created when aspiring LGBTQIA+ scientists see the little representation of themselves and are then further discouraged from pursuing a career in STEM. One of our panelists, Morgan Tingley explained the phenomenon of the “leaky pipeline”. It describes the fact that you have a large population of young LGBTQIA+ students interested in STEM, but due to a lack of support and inclusivity only a small number of those individuals move on to major in STEM in college, and a smaller number go onto grad school. The panelists stressed their responsibility as established professionals to mentor young LGBTQIA+ students who may otherwise feel alone in a heteronormative environment.
It is then even more important to host events like these to highlight the LGBTQIA+ community within STEM. By addressing visibility, we not only empower young scientists, but we can also begin to tackle the assumptions and stereotyping by co-workers that panelists also brought up during the event. Fortunately, there are organizations currently working towards that goal. Some of the ones mentioned at the event include oSTEM, with a chapter on campus, an organization specifically geared towards LGBTQIA+ STEM students. Others include 500 Queer Scientists, an online visibility campaign with hundreds of self-submitted biographies from LGBTQIA+ scientists. As readers, I encourage you to explore these resources to learn more about the community within STEM and reflect on the environment you create for LGBTQIA+ individuals in the fields you go into.
LGBTQIA+ individuals have always existed in STEM, making meaningful contributions, and we will continue to exist. It is time the world recognizes that.
Roselyn Terrazos-Moreno is a sophomore Physiology and Neurobiolgoy major with a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies minor. She planned the LGBTQIA+ in STEM event as a part of her role as a Rainbow Center employee.