Announcing #AlliesFTW Q&A

Oct 04 2012 Published by under academia, gender, queer

A while back on twitter, I got in a conversation with Joe (@josephlsimonis) from charismatics are dangerous about what folks in academia can do to be allies for the queer* students in their midst, especially trans* folks**. As we were chatting about things that profs/teachers/faculty can do to help queer students feel welcome and comfortable in academia I realized that I really had no idea.  I don't know what will help other queer folks feel comfortable in any given lab group environment. And yet, I am in a position where there may be queer students in the classes that I teach. And if there is anything I can do to foster their interests in science, I want to know what it is, so that I can do it. In short, I want to be an active ally. But how? What specific steps can I take to make the academic environment better for queer students? We talked about allies in the DiS Blog Carnival earlier this year, and came up with some good ideas when Labroides asked what a new prof could do to create an environment that fostered diversity, so that ze could recruit and retain folks from different backgrounds into hir group. And now is a great time for all of us to up our game. This leads us to the announcement:


Queer students often have widely different classroom experiences that can vary based on their specific queer identity/expression, as well as and any other identities which might intersect with their queerness in the classroom. Many young adults are coming out/identifying as queer while in college, and so the classroom and other academic settings are important places to make as welcoming and affirming as possible.

We are hosting a blog Q&A to discuss the issues that queer students have in academia, and to try to figure out what those of us in a role of  professor/teacher can do to foster an environment that allows our queer students to thrive. Since every student and environment is different, we hope that we can get a diverse group of folks both asking questions and contributing answers. So here's the plan: over the next couple of weeks, we are going to be asking for you to submit questions for the Q&A carnival. If you are a teacher/prof, what questions do you have about how to be a super ally? If you are a queer student, what do you wish the teacher/prof would take into consideration? Submit your answers in the comments section here or on Joe's blog, or email your responses to me (gmail at primaryinvestigator) or her (gmail at josephlsimonis). If you would like to remain anonymous we will strip your emails from any identifying information before posting questions on the blog. And if you are on twitter, join in with the hashtag #AlliesFTW.

We will collect question/comments until Oct 19 or so. Then Joe and I will put together the list of questions and post them on our respective blogs so that you can all chime in to give us a sense of which are the best ones to answer first. Then we will try to address each question/comment on the blog. We can only speak from our personal experiences, so the hope is that we will spark a good discussion that includes and reflects the spectrum of experiences.  We will try to keep the series going as long as progress is being made. In the end we can all be better allies!


*by queer, we mean anyone who falls under the broad lgbtqgqia+ or "gender and sexual minority" banners
**the trans* notation, with asterisk,  is a way to note that gender is not binary, and there are not just "boys" and "girls". I learned about it from Joe, and it is pretty awesome.

13 responses so far

  • [...] be a faculty ally, or about how to make your class/university environment more welcoming, check out Gerty’s blog, where you can submit questions. (There is a way to submit questions anonymously if you prefer.) You can also submit questions via [...]

  • Alyssa says:

    Such a great idea! I have a question:

    As an science communicator, I often go into schools and mostly work with kids in grades 6-12. I cringe every time I hear someone use "gay" as an insult or derogatory term. I don't want to ignore it, but not being the primary teacher in the classroom, I don't want to/can't discipline the students. What are some ways I could address this behaviour?

    • gerty-z says:

      good question! I hate the "gay" and "no homo" insults.

      • Ugh, I've been trying to figure out how to have this talk with a couple of my nephews. They're basically good kids but their Facebook walls are full of this kind of crap.

        Another question - is there anything specific to our role that project managers / grant wranglers can do? We have frequent contact with trainees, but don't have any formal relationship to them.

  • Lee J. says:

    As a trans Ph.D. student, who went through most of the important steps in my transition during my undergrad and master's, here are things that would make a lab and academic environment better.

    1) Know what resources are available in terms of trans healthcare. Will student health services prescribe hormones, or do students need to look outside the university? Does the university's insurance plan cover trans-related care? A good step towards being an active ally towards trans* students would be to lobby for insurance coverage of HRT, mental health care and surgical care related to GID, as many student health plans specifically exclude this care, placing heavy financial burdens on trans* students.

    2) Especially for students who will be interacting with undergrads (e.g. teaching assistants), what steps do they need to take in order to make sure that their names and gender markers are correctly reflected in the university system? Teaching a class in which you are 'outed' by the name and gender on electronic records can be very stressful (for example, during my master's, when my students took my class, we used Blackboard, which includes gendered avatars to represent faculty members, and doesn't allow people to change their names without high-level system access. If the university does not allow students to update their name and gender, find out what steps you can take to help make this happen.

    3) In class syllabuses, explicitly state that students may contact you privately (i.e. via email) if they have a preferred name or pronouns. Don't take roll from a university list before giving students the chance to clarify their preferred name and gender with you, since doing so may out trans students without their consent. Making an announcement to your class to this effect will affirm your status as an ally to your students.

    4) Many universities have safe space programs that train faculty to be allies to oppressed and minority communities. Going through those programs, then posting a notice on your door that designates your office as safe space can be helpful to creating an exclusive climate.

    5) Find out what laws and policies restrict bathroom access. Try to lobby for the presence of at least one gender neutral restroom space in every building on campus.

    6) When asking students to dress formally for presentations or social events, make sure that you do not restrict appropriate clothing by gender (specify, for example, that formal suits and cocktail dresses are appropriate choices, but do not imply that 'women should wear cocktail dresses').

    7) If a student comes out to you as trans, provide them with a list of resources and offer your unconditional support. Ask them how they would like to be addressed publicly, and how they would like you to confront people who misgender them. Respect their decision about whether or not they want to be out, but be sure to always use correct pronouns when privately speaking with them.

    8) Coordinate with LGBTQ student groups to find out what activism and resources are specifically needed on your campus, at the graduate and undergraduate level.

    9) Find out how your school treats spousal benefits for trans* people. What marriages are recognized by your insurance policy? What relationships are covered under partner benefits? What paperwork is needed to put family members on their insurance?

    10) For FAAB trans* folks, figure out where they can get ob-gyn care that is respectful of their gender identity. Some FAAB people may choose to have children -- find out whether or not prenatal care and post- pregnancy leave are offered for these people, and what extra steps they may need to take to secure care for themselves and their children. Similarly, MAAB trans* folks may be entitled to a leave of absence if they become parents -- lobby to make sure that trans* parents, whether biological or adoptive, have the same rights as their cis* peers.

    11) Always make sure that you don't make assumptions about the gender or number of people's romantic partners. Make sure that social events are structured to be welcoming to straight and queer couples, as well as people in polyamorous relationships.

    Those are some ideas that I have, at least.

    • gerty-z says:

      thanks! those are some great tips. I assume, though, in #4 you mean "inclusive" rather than "exclusive"?

    • Just wanted to echo the university training & posting a note outside your office/in the syllabus/et cetera. People don't usually read me as queer and I always have a moment of hesitation before outing myself to instructors--will this person judge me? Will they want to talk about it? How much time/energy do I want to spend?

      Really, everything Lee J. said is great!

    • Moose says:

      Re: #4. If your institution doesn't have a formal ally/safe space training, or scheduling prevents you from attending, you can print or order your own signs/stickers.

      I would also add SHOW UP! We are all busy. We all have to prioritize. But when an alleged ally has never attended safe space training, has never gone to a workshop or event put on by the LGBT Affairs office, etc. it tells me that queer issues aren't actually important enough for their time. Something is always going to come up, so allies need to prioritize queer (or other diversity-related) events/issues on occasion and show up instead of just talking about it.

      (My internal reaction might sometimes be "well, I'm sure your sub-field is Very Nice, but I'm going to skip the seminar you organized with the special invited speaker because I have other things that I need to do and it's not like your sub-field/event is *actually* important.)

      Aside: is anyone here going to Out to Innovate next weekend?

      • Kristi says:

        Seconding Moose on stickering: I have a water bottle that I carry with me everywhere with an HRC sticker on it. Doesn't have to be an institutional sticker.

        Lee J.'s suggestions are great. I especially love #3 and will start doing that.

  • Lee J. says:

    Hah, yep. Shame on me for not proofreading carefully!

  • [...] Have I told you guys about #AlliesFTW? (spoiler-I totally have) This is a bloggy Q&A that Joe and I are hosting in an effort to figure out some things that we can do to be great allies [...]

  • […] How to be a queer ally — in science! An upcoming Q&A and/or discussion. […]

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