LGBT in the Chemical Sciences: Outstanding Feature by Linda Wang

Join LGBT scientists and allies for the blog carnival at Jeremy Loder's Denim & Tweed. Click the icon for ideas!

Before I get to the meat of this post, I have a public service message related to why I’m calling attention to some superb, recent work by Linda Wang in a recent issue of Chemical & Engineering News.

This month marks the renewal of the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival, a series of monthly blogpost round-ups centered around a rotating theme of topics related to things unrelated to straight white guys. Launched originally by Dr. Danielle Lee, Jeremy Yoder has offered to host this month’s theme at his Denim & Tweed blog to celebrate the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities in the STEM disciplines.

How does a blog carnival work, you ask?

You write a post related to the monthly theme and submit the URL to the host before the deadline. A couple of days later, the host writes a post that aggregates all the posts with a short description and link to your blog. Here’s Jeremy’s call:

To celebrate Pride Month 2011, Denim and Tweed is hosting a relaunched Diversity in Science blog carnival, collecting online writing about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues from across the science blogosphere. Alberto Roca of Minority Postdoc is leading the DiS relaunch, and he’s just created a handy online submission form for the carnival.

So now sending in your posts—new for June or years old—is as easy as copying a permanent URL into the form (preferably in the “message” box) and signing it with your e-mail address. What are you waiting for? You have until Monday, 27 June to submit, so I can put the carnival online by the 30th!

When Jeremy posts the carnival, your writing will be aggregated with all others who wrote on that theme. It’s a great way to make your blog known because there will often be many more eyes on a carnival than your own blog – this was a strategy I was encouraged to take when I was a fledgling blogger. Carnivals not only helped draw new traffic to my blog and also got me on others’ blogrolls.

So, even if you are not a LGBT blogger, you can certainly be an ally – that’s reason enough to participate in this carnival. I’ve already put up one entry over at my Take As Directed blog on PLoS Blogs. There, I wrote about hearing civil rights legend, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), and reading about his support for gay rights – sometimes not a popular stance in the African American community.

LGBT in the Chemical Sciences

Today, I want to raise attention to an excellent series of articles from Linda Wang on efforts by the American Chemical Society to serve LGBT members of the chemical sciences professions.

Coming Out in the Chemical Sciences is an Employment section feature of our society magazine where Linda lays out some of the issues that uniquely face scientists because of their sexual orientation.

C&EN spoke with chemists from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community to better understand their workplace challenges and to gain insights into how employers can create a more diverse and inclusive environment to attract and retain the best and brightest talent.

Unlike for women and racial and ethnic minorities, statistics are lacking on how many LGBT chemists are in the scientific workforce. In part, that’s because chemists who have not “come out of the closet” by openly disclosing their sexual orientation may choose not to self-identify. Without any solid numbers, it’s hard to know who the LGBT population is in the chemical sciences and what their needs are.

“We’re largely invisible,” says [Barbara L.] Belmont, who chairs ACS’s new Subdivision for Gay & Transgender Chemists & Allies, which is part of the Division of Professional Relations. “We don’t have any physical identifiers, and in this heteronormative culture that we live in, we are all presumed to be heterosexual unless we mention that we are not.”

Indeed. No one ever asks me what it’s like to be a white guy in science. No one ever asks me if it’s weird for my wife and I to have a child together. No one ever dares ask me at a party how exactly I have sex. And I generally don’t have to worry about being downsized solely because I’m a white, heterosexual male.

But, yes, while it’s tough enough for each of us to compete in this demanding business, some of our colleagues have to face additional hurdles that can sometimes cause them discomfort – or even fear of lack or promotion or employment – in being their true selves.

[College of New Jersey's Benny] Chan agrees. “Hiding your personal life can be detrimental to your emotional health because folks around you are talking about their families all the time,” he says. “If you can’t talk about that kind of stuff, it really separates you socially and makes it an uncomfortable atmosphere. It’s very isolating.”

For those who think that employers shouldn’t be concerned with the sexual orientation of their employees, Chan’s quote is quite deserving of reflection.

Wang goes on to discuss the most pressing issue for LGBT chemists – employment discrimination – and the hope that the US Congress passes the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But even with legislation, those interviewed point out that corporate culture is essential for inclusion in daily work-life. This is where we learn of some great success stories, particularly with companies that rank highly on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. In addition to the latter half of her feature article, Linda has another article on the major chemical sciences companies that rank at the top of this index.

Here is also where I have to applaud our American Chemical Society for taking the lead on establishing a subdivision for gay and transgender chemists and allies.

The subdivision organized its first symposium, “Gay & Transgender Chemists: The Case for Visibility & Diversity Inclusion,” during the spring 2011 ACS national meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

Christopher Bannochie, chair of the ACS Division of Professional Relations and a member of the subdivision, says the subdivision grew out of the grassroots efforts of the LGBT Chemists & Allies group, which was formed in the late 1990s by ACS members as a caucus of the National Organization of Gay & Lesbian Scientists & Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP) and as a response to the lack of committee representation within ACS for LGBT issues.

An important aspect of establishing an institutional group for current professionals is to provide an open mechanism for junior scientists and trainees to find role models in how to navigate their careers as a member of the LGBT community. Here again, Linda gives us another article focusing on how to find gay and transgender role models in the chemical sciences.

“Although there is positive media coverage of LGBT scientists, young chemists and other scientists continue to face issues with being out,” [UC-Irvine's James S.] Nowick says. “For this reason, visible LGBT role models continue to be needed, particularly in academia where students are often going through coming-out experiences.”

[. . .]

“Coming out is easier when there are role models, and people paving the way for you,” says Belmont. And for those who aren’t able to come out, “we’re hoping to be their advocates.”

Remember: LGBT issues are not just LGBT issues. Just because I’m a white man, it makes perfect sense that I still have a vested interest in the success of my women colleagues and African American students. We all want the best for our students and colleagues. If I can’t provide my students with advice on working as an industrial scientist, I direct them toward one of my colleagues in industry (and tell them to read Derek Lowe’s In the Pipeline blog). I want to encourage them to pursue their dreams in the context that is meaningful to them.

My gay and transgender colleagues and students are deserving of my support, not only as professionals but as fellow members of my community. So this is why I encourage all of us, regardless of background or sexual orientation, to support our colleagues who are from traditionally-marginalized groups. In fact, I argue that those of the traditionally-dominant demographic groups have an obligation to support the struggle for equality for our colleagues.

Chemistry and chemistry-related sciences are among the most competitive and intellectually-demanding professions. The creativity necessary to succeed requires respect for the individual and an encouraging and supportive work environment, one that allows you to be you so that we can address the intellectual and economic challenges that affect us all.

For further reading:

Linda Wang articles – May 23, 2011 C&EN issue

Coming Out in the Chemical Sciences

ACS Creates a New Subdivision for Gay & Transgender Chemists and Allies

Paving the Way: Finding Mentors and Role Models

Corporate Equality: Best Companies for LGBT Scientists


Interested in submitting to the Diversity in Science carnival on LGBT issues?

Jeremy Yoder’s announcement with topic suggestions (but all are welcome!)

Here’s the online submission form (at MinorityPostdoc.org)

My other example of a carnival post submission:

The Freedom Riders and Same-Sex Marriage at Take As Directed

Remember, you don’t have to be LGBT to care about (and write about!) LGBT issues!

Author: David Kroll

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