As promised, it is now time for the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival-PRIDE edition, brought to you by MinorityPostdoc.org! This year, I asked queer* scientist and our straight allies to write in and describe what it means to be an "advocate". And we got a LOT of great entries! This is the first time I've ever hosted a blog carnival, but here goes 🙂
Jeremy Yoder, at Denim and Tweed, is going to the streets being a political advocate to introduce an amendment into the state constitution defining marriage as "one man and one woman" (same-sex marriage is already not recognized by law in MN). Basically, he is calling voters, one by one, and asking for permission to get married someday. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to have to try to calmly discuss such a personal thing with strangers, many of whom don't agree that you should have this basic right. I am cheering from him from far away, and hope that Minnesota can be the first state where the majority doesn't vote to restrict the rights of the minority. Visit the Minnesotans United for All Families site to learn more.
Other great examples of queer advocacy include Trey at Genomes Are Us, who is trying to convince software companies to make it possible to recognize "non-traditional" families in pedigree/geneology software. And there are some good videos up at Talk Nerdy to Me that are accessible descriptions of literature about whether being gay is nature vs. nurture. The description of the genetics seems reasonable to me, but the anatomy arguments I find more difficult to assess. But one of my favorite organizations for queer advocacy in STEM is NOGLSTP (the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals). NOGLSTP hosts an "Out to Innovate" career summit that looks FANTASTIC! You can read more about it at the Minority Postdoc site here.
Even though there are so many folks out there doing what is easily recognized as "advocacy", I was surprised to find that the over-riding theme that emerged from all the entries was that for many of us being out and visible is a major part of our advocacy. I think that this is really important, and the reason that I encourage everyone who can (safely) be out to do so. Being visible makes people realize that they KNOW someone who is queer. Obama mentioned that knowing queer families helped him "evolve". But being out also means that you are showing folks that you can be both queer AND a scientist. Jeremy may have spent the day collecting signatures for MN United for All Families at Pride, but he is an advocate every day because he is a gay man that does good science. I like his idea of queer advocacy:
I think that the point of advocacy is to try and leave the world a little bit better place for the next generation of queer kids, the ones who are just realizing they have to figure out how their orientation fits into the lives they've only just begun to build. In the spirit of It Gets Better, if good examples of how to be gay are what helped me come out, how can I not do my best to be a good example of how to be gay now that I'm out?
There were some entries from queer students that made me realize again how important it is to be visible. REALLY visible, if you can. This may be as easy as just showing up. Sarcoza, at Gravity's Rainbow, went to a brown-bag lunch event for LGBTQ at the Ecology meeting and was wondering where everyone was. She wonders if the queer scientists leak out of the pipeline because many of the jobs are in places that are unpleasant (or even unsafe) to live as a queer family. I know that local politics influenced where I was willing to apply for jobs, but I also agree with Zwitterionique and Moose (a guest post at Grain of Sand) that academic institutions tend to be pretty happy, liberal enclaves, though we definitely still have room for improvement. But I wonder if there is any data about the proportion of gay academics and state politics? Daniel, an ecology grad student that blogs at Grains of Sand, also noticed a lack of queer faculty. He wondered it there was an unwritten "don't ask don't tell" policy. Daniel started a local queer scientist group, and this has helped him to find a local community. Moose has also benefited from a local Queer Science group (I love this quote!):
I’m no longer that weird queer in a geek space or that weird geek in a queer space...
Being out and visible helps. From my own experience, I know that after I came out in graduate school there were some faculty that came out to me. I don't think many of them were generally out, but it was still great to have someone that I could talk to about some of the different aspects of being gay and on the academic track. Moose alludes to this also, telling how having an out faculty member made it easier to enroll in grad school. Like when to come out on the job market. Daniel thinks we should all stop apologizing for being gay when we go on the market, and embrace that being gay could make us stronger as candidates, perhaps highlighting the service work that we do as advocates. I think this would be great, but is a little optimistic. First, at least in my field, service work doesn't count for much when it comes to the job search**. Second, I think that it is still a little risky. I made the choice to be fully out during my tenure-track job search, and I will never know how much this affected my job search. I do know queer scientists that have been discriminated against in job searches. I think that everyone has to make the choice that is best for them and their family in this situation.
One great thing that I got from reading the posts from some of our young queer advocates out there are awesome little tips about how to be MOAR visible as a faculty member. One simple suggestion from Daniel was to put a rainbow sticker on my laptop, so folks could see it when I was lecturing. I LOVE THIS IDEA, and am totally doing it next year when I lecture. I was shocked the other day when I happened to mention my wife in front of some graduate students and one of them was really surprised that I was gay. This student then came out to me, which was pretty cool, TBH.
Advocacy, and visibility, can also help with our straight allies. Zwitterionique raised the importance of straight allies, who can advocate for queer issues as the "independent and impartial" viewpoint.
My most effective moments of advocacy are those when a straight someone advocates for the LGBT community. That’s going to happen more often if people know someone who is queer. So I’m fantastically out – all the time.
I will never understand WHY people who are less effected by laws that influence queer families are seen as better able to discuss these laws, but that is a whole other issue. We had some AWESOME posts from allies for our carnival. In an anonymous guest post, an out-and-proud ally wrote about how s/he works to make sure that queer folk are treated fairly in hir academic world, and makes sure to include LGBTQ-specific topics in lectures to medical students.
It means that when I teach bacterially transmitted infections that I point out which diseases are found in LGBT populations, so our future MDs know what to look for and which questions to ask their patients.
Mentioning the queer population to future MD's is great, IMO, and something that I hope more medical school faculty start to do. InBabyAttachMode realized when she was having a baby how not being able to check the "married" box [link added-gz] made things harder, administratively and emotionally.
I can only imagine how left out you must feel if you cannot take part in all aspects of a society just because of the gender of your partner.
Finally, Scientist Mother and Dr. 24 hours tell their stories of how they became allies, but not without hitting some speed bumps along the way. Scientist Mother raises some really important points about how cultural influences can make it even more difficult to safely be out. And I really appreciate how she described her transition into an ally:
To realize that you can do better, you’ll make mistakes and that you can become an ally by simply understanding that people are more than just who they love.
We all have to learn to be allies and I'm glad to know she is advocating for us! Dr.24hours recognizes that there were some great people along the way that helped him realize why he should be an ally. And he makes a super point that highlights what is important here, and what we are striving for with our queer advocacy:
Marriage, freedom, is not a zero sum game. I am not less free because someone else has the same rights as I do! My right to marriage is not less valid because someone else has the right to participate in another union which is also a marriage. My liberty is unrestricted by extending it to all. In fact, it is deeply, and greatly, enhanced.
NOTE ADDED IN PROOF: As I was finishing this post, I got another email with a great set of blog posts solicited by Stanford computer science professor Luca Trevisan in honor of Alan Turing's 100th birthday. They are all fantastic! There is one by Luca Trevisan, who talks about how easy it was to come out in the CS field. Sampath Kannan also feels that the environment of CS and IT make it so that there is no reason to be in the closet for fear of negative reaction in the workplace. Günter Ziegler wrote a letter to Turing dedicating the Berlin Pride Party in his honor, which is fantastic. Irit Dinur also finds it easy to be an out lesbian in CS, except when it comes to traveling abroad to the US for postdoctoral work and sabatticals (GRRRR, USA. GRRR). There was also an essay from Oded Goldreich, a straight ally, who discusses practical and cultural aspects of being queer in TSC/TOC. All in all, from these posts it seems that the CS fields are pretty open and welcoming to queer colleagues, which is GREAT!
ANOTHER NOTE! Stephanie Miller has a great essay on the Minority Postdoc site about building coalitions in a networked world. She has some great points about the value of diversity and how the queer community can organize to increase our advocacy and integrate with other minority groups. Good stuff!
Thanks to everyone that contributed to the carnival! And feel free to add your thoughts about queer advocacy in the comments 🙂
The NEXT awesome edition of the Diversity in Science Carnival will be on the topic of "Disability Awareness, Disabled Community". You can find the complete schedule here. Don't miss it!
SOME OTHER LATE ADDITIONS [updated for new posts]:
Glacial Till has a post up about struggling to decide how to be a scientist, and finding "community".
There is a really fantastic post at En Tequila es Verdad that you shouldn't miss: On Tides, Visibility, and Quiet Revolutionary Acts.
[edited to add in Dr24hours post, which I missed. sorry!]
[edited AGAIN, this time to put in the DiS flair I forgot. Like I said, this is my first carnival! :)]
*For simplicity, I am including all non-cis and/or non-heterosexual folks with this term.
**I'm familiar with tenure-track job search in biomedical science. Other fields may be different, please tell us what it is like in your academic world in the comments!