June is Pride Month, so I thought it was the perfect time to highlight the culture and celebrate both current and historical members of the LGBTQ+ community in STEM!
Many of our most exciting minds in the field have been those in the LGBTQ+ community, but because of the cultural ramifications of revealing any sexual identity other than heterosexuality, some of the following individuals never confirmed themselves as LGBTQ+, but are assumed as such. Nevertheless, their contributions have literally changed the world.
Sally Ride was a physicist and the first American woman to travel to space. Following her career with NASA, she dedicated herself to education and specifically to narrow the gender gap in science and engineering, she founded Sally Ride Science. She was married to a fellow (male) astronaut for five years, then lived the remaining years of her life with her female partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy. Though Ride passed away in 2012, her legacy lives on through her organization, the science books she authored and the inspiration her life continues to provide.
Alan Hart always identified as male, though born a female. When efforts to overcome these instincts failed, he became the first transgender man to undergo a hysterectomy. Despite being “outed” multiple times throughout his career, and being forced to switch locations, Hart persevered and was instrumental in helping TB patients get diagnosed early enough for effective treatment through the use of chest x-rays.
Issac Newton, who is now believed to have been asexual, was responsible for creating the theory of universal gravity. Widely known as one of the greatest scientific minds of all time, he also developed calculus and authored Hypothesis of Light, which discussed the existence of ether as a means to transmit forces between particles.
Alan Turing founded computer science and led the team that broke the Nazi code during WWII, saving countless lives. His story was immortalized in the 2014 film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Tragically, two years after his arrest for being homosexual, Turing committed suicide.
Today’s STEM Gems
Just as history was full of LGBTQ+ brilliance in STEM, so is our current world! Here are just a few change-makers in the community:
Elena Long, a transgender assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire, is the founder of lgbt+physicists, which provides resources, networking and advocacy for gender and sexual minorities in physics.
Dr. Clara Barker is a transgender, thin-film material scientist at Oxford University. She received the prestigious Points of Light Award from the U.K. Prime Minister in 2017 and continues advocacy work with young LGBTQ+ individuals through a youth group she leads. Her popular TEDx talk discusses the importance of building trust to create diversity in institutions.
Jon Freeman is a gay Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbia University and Director of the Social Cognitive and Neural Sciences Lab. He is an advocate for STEM diversity, lobbying for improved visibility, LGBTQ diversity programs and mentorship initiatives.
Dr. Derek D. Jones, Jr. is a non-binary Black chemist, otherwise known as “The Black S.T.E.M Advocate.” Through public speaking, consulting and coaching, he is dedicated to empowering the LGBTQ+ STEM community.
The Data and the Work Left to Do
A recent study, which pulled data from the 2009-2018 American Community Surveys (ACS) and the 2013-2018 National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS), indicates that “sexual minority men are less likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field or to work in a STEM occupation compared to heterosexual men.” Men who “love men” are also 12% less likely to have a STEM degree in relation to their heterosexual counterparts.
Clearly, there is a long way to go in STEM for all who identify as LGBTQ+. Thankfully, there is an organization actively collecting stories and promoting LGBTQ+ professionals in STEM. The visibility campaign 500queerscientists.com, aims to “ensure the next STEM generation has LGBTQ+ role models; help the current generation recognize they’re not alone; create opportunities for community connections and greater visibility within STEM.” They are a group that collectively represents a powerful force of scientific progress and discovery. With 1,688 stories and counting, there is no shortage of talent to draw upon.
Who are your STEM heroes in the LGBTQ+ community? Elevate your inspirations in the comments section.
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Photo Credit: Jennifer Marque/Pixabay