To the editor:
July 5, 2018 was the first international celebration of LGBTQI individuals in STEM. You probably didn’t get to celebrate. In fact, you probably didn’t hear about it at all unless you happened to notice that it was trending on twitter for most of the day on Thursday.
Regrettably, it was not observed at UConn or recognized through any official university communications (so far as I am aware). It was celebrated elsewhere – by numerous professional societies (e.g. American Society for Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), top tier scientific journals (e.g. Science), and even popular magazines (e.g. Scientific American).
If you are curious to know why LGBTSTEM day is a big deal or worthy of celebration– Jon Freeman, an Associate Professor of Psychology at NYU did the research for you and published an editorial in the journal Nature on July 3 – it is a sobering read.
Here’s the short version: Individuals who identify as sexual minorities are underrepresented overall in STEM. As students, they are almost 15 percent more likely to switch out of STEM majors and at a faster rate than women. Of those who finish their degree and find jobs in STEM, over two thirds feel uncomfortable being open about their sexuality at work – especially if their employer doesn’t offer same-sex benefits.
There is no data about people who aren’t “out”. Despite many funding agencies (NSF), universities (ehem), and STEM employers having diversity initiatives, as they absolutely should, very few of these programs specifically target LGBTQI individuals or even consider them to be a minority.
We are lucky to be in Connecticut and at UConn – to live, work, and study in an environment where there are resources and support networks available. The future is bright. I’m here and I’m happy! But it would be incredibly naive, regardless of where we are, to pretend that these issues don’t exist. The numbers don’t lie. And even supportive communities are still riddled with microaggressions and implicit bias.
Visibility and representation matter 365 days a year, not just on July 5. But next year on LGBTSTEM day, I hope that we can give a visible affirmation to our LGBTQI students, staff, and faculty who work in STEM.
We see you. We welcome you. We want you here. We need the diversity that you bring to be the best.
John M. Redden, Ph.D.
Physiology and Neurobiology