This is on top of wider societal issues: earlier this week, the UK government released the results of its national LGBT+ survey which found that 40% of LGBT+ people in the UK still experience abuse and more than two in three of those who participated in the survey said they avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner in public for fear of a negative reaction.
“More than a third of LGBT+ people in Britain currently hide their identity at work right now – and around half of trans staff,” says Professor Polly Arnold OBE FRS, chair of our Inclusion and Diversity Committee. “And this is in a country that we feel is generally a safe place to be out. Obviously someone’s sexuality or gender identity has absolutely no influence on their capacity to be a brilliant scientist, but when people are able to be 100% of themselves at work, university or school, they feel more comfortable and happy, and can perform at their full capability.
“Stonewall surveys have shown that leading employers in all sectors have shown commitment and taken positive steps towards equality, but there is still a long way to go before employees necessarily feel comfortable being out to everyone.”
“Solving these problems, requires nothing short of a revolution in how we do science, talk about science, and how we expect science to be,” says Dr Alfredo Carpineti, chair and founder of Pride in STEM, a British charitable trust, and one of the primary organisers of LGBTSTEM Day. “We need inclusive and intersectional changes. To solve the many diverse challenges humanity is facing in the twenty-first century we cannot afford to be losing people from minority backgrounds.”
Our chief executive Dr Robert Parker said, “The Royal Society of Chemistry has a long history of commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion in the chemical sciences and I am proud that we are supporting the first international day of recognition for LGBTQ+ individuals in STEM. For the chemical sciences to prosper, they must attract, develop and retain a diverse community of people. Celebrating LGBTSTEM Day is an opportunity for us to raise awareness of the issues facing LGBTQ+ scientists and show that we are committed to ensuring chemistry is an open, inclusive environment for all, regardless of sexuality or gender identity.”
Building a supportive community
The other co-organisers are House of STEM, a network of LGBTQ+ people working in STEM in Ireland; InterEngineering, an organisation for LGBT inclusion in engineering; and Out in STEM, a U.S. society educating and fostering leadership for LGBTQA people in the STEM fields. When the project was announced in March, it quickly spread through the scientific and LGBTSTEM community. There are more than 30 events happening across three continents, and the day is supported by 42 organisations.
“This support truly gives you hope,” says Dr Shaun O’Boyle, founder of House of STEM. “We formed our network last year to bring together a community of LGBTQ+ scientists in Ireland. And now we are building an incredible international family of groups and organisations, all working to make STEM more diverse and inclusive. LGBTSTEM Day is an exciting opportunity to bring that family together, in a truly global push towards improving the visibility and representation of LGBTQ+ people in STEM.”
As well as LGBTSTEM Day, we’re involved in a number of other projects supporting our LGBTQ+ community. Jointly with the Institute of Physics (IOP) and the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), we have formed the LGBT+ physical sciences network to connect the LGBT+ physical sciences community, which we’d encourage any interested members to join. As part of this network, we recently carried out a survey on the climate for LGBT+ people teaching, studying and working in the physical sciences in the UK and Ireland, which received nearly 1500 responses. The results of this research will be published in early 2019 jointly with IOP and RAS. We are also co-organising the 2019 LGBT+ STEMinar, to be held at the Institute of Physics on 11 January next year.
Shining a light on the issues
“The LGBT+ community have done one thing very well in recent years and that's recruit allies,” says Professor Arnold. “We did some of this standing on floats, waving flags, and playing dance music. But you can be an ally just by calling out bad behaviour in public places. For example, join me in demanding the removal of every binary-choice gender-selection menu on the Wi-Fi login in most cities and cafes. Today, the RSC will be spreading the message via a range of social media, and publishing links to articles and resources. Please do join us.”
“LGBTSTEM Day won’t fix all the issues, but it will shine a big light on them,” says Dr Carpineti. “We are sure it will start conversations, and that’s so important. Ignorance kills. It is time to stop pretending that the STEM disciplines are not influenced by politics and social changes. Some science might be done in a physical vacuum, but no science is done in a historical one.”
How you can get involved
Join the conversation on Twitter with #LGBTSTEMDay. Pride in STEM have put together a handy toolkit for the day to give you some inspiration.
Read Professor David Smith's thoughts on on why the scientific community has work to do in supporting current and aspiring LGBT+ scientists.
Education in Chemistry magazine have put together a collection of articles and resources to support education professionals.
If you have a story to tell, either as an LGBTQ+ chemical scientist or ally, you can contact us using the details on the left of this article.
Join our network for LGBT+ physical scientists, co-run with the Institute of Physics and Royal Astronomical Society.