A new Queer in STEM starts soon!

There’s big news today at the Queer in STEM project site: we’re about to launch a new iteration of our online survey. Queer in STEM 2.0 is happening thanks to Joey Nelson, a PhD candidate in geosciences at Stanford, who approached us last fall about developing a new study to build on what we’ve learned from the first Queer in STEM survey. He had some great ideas for new questions to tackle:

Do LGBTQ-identified people remain in the closet in STEM workplaces mainly because they feel a lack of support, or because STEM workplace cultures discourage discussion of personal lives outside the lab? How do LGBTQ-identified colleagues, mentors, and role models affect their careers? Does being “out” in the workplace affect their research productivity?

Queer in STEM 2.0 aims to answer these questions with a new online survey designed for more specific hypothesis testing. We hope to hear again from participants in the original Queer in STEM survey, and to achieve an even bigger sample from LGBTQ-identified STEM professionals across the U.S. and Canada. Finally, in our biggest innovation from the original study, we will also ask STEM professionals who don’t identify as LGBTQ to answer many of the same questions we will ask LGBTQ-identified participants, to provide a powerful new tool for understanding the survey results: a control sample.

Joey’s taken the lead in developing a new, more focused questionnaire that adjusts the questions it presents based on initial responses — so, hopefully, it’ll be a smaller time commitment for participants. We’ve also had help and input from Daniel Cruz-Ramirez de Arellano, a chemist at the University of South Florida who’s already worked with Allison to analyze one-on-one interviews from the first study. We’re also grateful to have the continued support of NOGLSTP, and now oSTEM, too.

As an aside: We’d originally planned to announce the new study on Monday, but we held off for a bit in the wake of the horrific mass killing at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It’s hard to think that a project like Queer in STEM matters much, in the face of that kind of hatred. I do believe, though, that working to understand individual queer experiences — the nitty gritty details of our lives and careers — is part of the much bigger project of making society kinder to all people. The Pulse massacre is only the latest act of anti-queer violence to add to the fears that LGBTQ-identified folks carry with us every day — including in our laboratories and classrooms. I know I speak for all my collaborators when I say that we hope Queer in STEM can help to make those spaces feel safer.

We’ll officially open the new survey for responses on Monday, 20 June — look for notice here, on the study site, or on social media.

STEM employers in North Carolina: Time to put your money where your mouths are

Morehead Planetarium on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill (Flickr: William Yeung)

Morehead Planetarium on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill (Flickr: William Yeung)

North Carolina’s got a shiny new law legalizing antigay discrimination and legislating where trans folk can pee. (More specifically, it forbids the state’s cities and municipalities from passing nondiscrimination laws that protect sexual orientation and gender identity, which some have done.) It’s probably in violation of current Federal regulations and the Constitution, but it could be years before that’s sorted out in court.

H2 was written, passed in a special legislative session, and signed into law in about 10 hours — so quickly that some Democrats walked out of the state Senate in protest of the procedural chicanery. There was effectively no time to mount any public campaign against the law before it became law. Which is a pity, because a similar law under consideration in Georgia is now literally up against Mary Poppins and Captain America: the Walt Disney Company and its subsidiary Marvel Entertainment are threatening to pull operations from the state if the bill passes.

I’m not aware that North Carolina has much of an economic stake in making superhero science fiction, but I do happen to know that the state is deeply invested in actual science. The Research Triangle is a development region created in a public-private partnership to foster science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) businesses with close ties to Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State University. It was named one of the “Top 10 Biopharma Clusters” last year. So this seems like it might be a problem for the academic side of all that partnership:

As interpreted by the Department of Education, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 forbids discrimination against trans students in any school that receives federal funding. These schools are prohibited from excluding trans students from the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. The new North Carolina law, dubbed H2, rebukes this federal mandate by forbidding public schools from allowing trans students to use the correct bathroom. That jeopardizes the more than $4.5 billion in federal education funding that North Carolina expected to receive in 2016.

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Queer in STEM survey of LGBTQ science professionals now published

The first peer-reviewed paper from the Queer in STEM survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer scientists, engineers, and research professionals is now online ahead of print in the Journal of Homosexuality. It’s the first big, nationwide study of LGBTQ career experiences in the sciences — a potentially important resource to inform the policies of scientific employers and professional organizations.

Some of the most important points in the paper, which I wrote with collaborator Allison Mattheis, are

  • There are a lot of LGBTQ folks working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) — we had more than 1400 responses from STEM professionals across the United States, and in several other countries. (Edited to add: Does this mean LGBTQ folks are well represented, as a proportion of everyone working in STEM? We can’t tell from this dataset — but that’s something we hope to work on in a follow-up study.)
  • Most survey participants reported being completely open about their LGBTQ identity with their friends and family, but a large subset of them were not open at all with their colleagues or coworkers. (This is similar to the results of a survey of U.S. workers released by the Human Rights Campaign last year.)
  • Participants were more likely to be open to their colleagues or coworkers if they described their workplace as safe and welcoming.
  • Participants were more likely to be open to their colleagues or coworkers if they worked in a STEM field with better representation of women (see the figure below). This suggests that in fields with poor gender balance, the climate may be less comfortable for anyone who fails to conform to a straight male gender presentation.
Queer in STEM participants were more likely to be open to colleagues if they worked in STEM fields with better representation of women, as estimated from the U.S. National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) report. Regression with all STEM fields (solid line), p = 0.31;  with Psychology excluded (dashed line), p = 0.02.

Queer in STEM participants were more likely to be open to colleagues if they worked in STEM fields with better representation of women, as estimated from the U.S. National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) report. Regression with all STEM fields (solid line), p = 0.31;
with Psychology excluded (dashed line), p = 0.02.

You can find the full paper on the website of the Journal of Homosexuality, or download an easier-to-read PDF copy of the manuscript here.

Queer as Spock



It is an axiom of geek culture that Star Trek was a beacon of progressive thought on prime-time television, presenting an aggressively optimistic vision of the future in which humans of all races worked alongside even stranger beings to explore the universe and protect life in all its diversity, with phasers set to “stun” unless absolutely necessary. It is equally widely admitted that a glaring gap in the rainbow coalition aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise was human sexual diversity: in six television series and 12 feature films, the franchise has never identified an onscreen character as unambiguously gay, lesbian, or transgender.

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was, apparently, farther behind the curve on gay rights than he was on racial equality, and never quite made queer inclusion a priority in his time guiding the franchise. Nevertheless Trek has tiptoed up to the line from a number of angles, presenting mind-swaps between bodies of different sexes going back to the “Original Series” of the late 1960s, alien species with sexual and gender roles that defy the male-female binary, sexually ambiguous alter-egos in parallel universes, and even gender reassignment surgery. Legend among fans also has it that an officer on the bridge in the movie Star Trek: First Contact, Lieutenant Hawke (Neal McDonough), was conceived with a gay backstory, but this personalizing detail was cut for time, and Hawke was assimilated by the Borg — maybe making things a little more fabulous in the depths of the Collective, if not the onscreen canon. Gay men also made central, if officially closeted, contributions to Trek: most notably George Takei, who played Lieutenant Sulu, and screenwriter David Gerrold, who wrote episodes including “The Trouble With Tribbles,” the one that buries William Shatner’s Captain Kirk in a pile of multicolored fur-balls. Gerrold wrote an episode for Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Blood and Fire,” which included a gay couple in pivotal roles, but the screenplay never got anywhere near production. (It has since been adapted in a fan-made continuation of the Original Series, with no small success.)

But while fans looking for overt queerness in Star Trek are forced to rummage through the lower decks of the franchise, there’s been a covert gay icon stationed up on the bridge since before the first episode was broadcast. That icon is none other than the First Officer of the Enterprise, Mr. Spock.

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An open letter to Jack Andraka, the Advocate, and, what the hell, OUT magazine while I’m at it


I think I speak for the every gay science nerd when I say that we’re exceptionally proud to count you among us. The initiative you took, while still a high school student, to join a research lab and design a new rapid test for cancer is incredibly inspiring, and you’ve taken to the role of public advocate for science with aplomb.

So I was disappointed to read your recent op-ed on the website of The Advocate about the lack of queer role models in science — not because you’re wrong about the problem, but because you missed a big opportunity to start fixing it.

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Queer in STEM: What’s the relationship between openness and comfort?

Faculty members who are out to their colleagues are … much more likely to describe themselves as “uncomfortable”? Figure 1 from Patridge et al. (2014).

Over at the Queer in STEM site, I discuss the first study to try and tackle the questions that motivated QiS, which was just recently published. It’s exciting to see that other folks are also looking at the experiences of LGBTQ folks in STEM careers—but it’s a bit puzzling that this new study found a pattern very different from what we see in our own data:

… of the STEM faculty who answered the Campus Pride survey, those who who rated their “outness” level as 4 or 5 were much more likely to say they were uncomfortable in their department.

… In the most comparable analysis from our own study, we found that participants who described their workplaces as “welcoming,” or said they were “treated the same” as their straight colleges, were much more likely to be out to their colleagues—exactly the opposite of the relationship Patridge et al. found between begin out and feeling comfortable.

In the full post, I discuss some hypotheses about why we might have found such completely different results, and try to evaluate them based on the Queer in STEM data.◼

Progress, of a sort

“Christian University Rethinking Ban On Hiring Openly Gay Faculty” is ordinarily a headline I’d browse past without much thought (especially on Queerty, where the next thing in browsing order is probably a curated assortment of images of freshly-out Tom Daley) But when I saw it the week before last, the third paragraph caught my eye:

Eastern Mennonite University could be the first Mennonite institution to formally reverse its policy that prohibits tenure-track faculty from engaging in same-sex relationships. Currently, openly gay professors in same-sex relationships are not eligible for employment. If they want to work at the university, they must keep their relationship statuses a secret.

Yeah, so that would be the same Eastern Mennonite University that occupies an entry on my curriculum vitae.

As I found out from a press release at the university website, the EMU board of trustees has “authorized President Loren Swartzendruber, DMin, and his cabinet ‘to design and oversee a six-month listening process … to review current hiring policies and practices with respect to individuals in same-sex relationships.’”

What precisely are those “hiring policies and practices”? Well, EMU expects its faculty, staff, and students to adhere to a Community Lifestyle Commitment that includes a pledge to “refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage.” Per the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (a doctrinal document of Mennonite Church USA, the national organizing body of the church), “marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.” So if you’re gay or lesbian and want to work for EMU, well, you can’t have a dating life—and certainly not a long-term, committed relationship—and also keep your Lifestyle Commitment.

That fact that this effective ban on the employment of LGBT people (and, indeed, education of LGBT students) only becomes apparent if you cross-reference two different policy statements tells you everything you need to know about how the Mennonite Church has historically operated w/r/t queer people: as indirectly as humanly possible. Back when I was on the EMU campus, lo these almost 10 years ago, that cross-referencing was a highly effective way to ensure that anyone on campus who even thought he might be gay (ahem) was alone and afraid for his academic standing.

Things may be better now. Indeed, with the university finally moving to discuss the possibility of maybe thinking about catching up to such radical social innovators as the U.S. military and the state of Iowa, things could be about to get a lot better. But I can’t say that I’m encouraged by the framing of this “listening process” so far.

Citing the thoughts of one board member, Swartzendruber said, “Unilateral decision-making leads to broken relationships and rogue actions. Collaborative decision-making means that a community is functioning well. This board’s decision and this process will, I think, show how well our community functions …

“Collaborative decision-making” is also an excellent way to privilege the majority perspective over whatever harm it does to a minority. It’s what gave the Mennonite Church its Confession of Faith, and EMU its Community Lifestyle Commitment. So, on behalf of the students who are where I was a decade ago, I dearly hope this results in better treatment—but I think they’d be better off getting well away from any community that wants to collaboratively decide who they can love.◼

Queer in STEM on Autostraddle

My collaborator on the Queer in STEM project and I are flattered to be the subjects of an entire profile over at Autostraddle, part of the great series on “Queered Science” by Vivian Underhill, who also gave us a nice nod in an article for Bitch Magazine. The Autostraddle article gets into the genesis of the project:

Allison had done some work on queer issues previously, on “discrimination in school settings, transnational queer migration, and identity development.” So Jeremy asked Allison what she thought about the idea of a survey of a nation-wide sample of queer scientists – as a social scientist, did she think results like that would be publishable? “I responded, ‘are you asking me to teach you about doing research with human subjects? Sure!'”

There’s even an artist’s rendering of us hard at work in the field:

You should definitely go read the whole thing.◼

Queer in STEM: Out of the lab closet?

Image via Queer in STEM.

The latest update about the results of the Queer in STEM survey looks at how open participants are in personal and professional contexts:

… for many of us, coming out is a daily task. Still, how out we are in a given situation or social group says a lot about how comfortable we are in that context.

We found that people tend to be less out to colleagues than to friends and family—but we also found some interesting patterns about what factors might determine how open participants can be when they come to work. To find out what those patterns are, go read the whole thing.◼

Queer in STEM’s first results! Who participated?

Queer in STEM participants, sorted by gender identity and sexual orienation. Image via Queer in STEM.

I’m happy to announce that the two of us at the Queer in STEM study have finally found some time to put together our first report of results from the online survey. It’s a look at who participated—their identities, where they’re living, what kind of scientific work they’re doing.

When we closed sampling at the end of July, we had responses from 1,443 people. Those folks have given us a first look at a kind of diversity that isn’t well understood in scientific workplaces. Go have a look for yourself, and keep an eye on the study website for future updates, which will come out as often as we can pull them together.◼