A recent report by three prestigious British scientific institutions reveals that 28% of LGTBIQA+ people in the UK have been on the verge of leaving work because of the discriminatory environment. In Spain, where there are no studies on the subject, the PRISMA association has just been set up to increase the visibility of this group in the country.
Pride Day at STEM is July 5th. / Cinta Arribas
A few days ago, commemorating the LGTBIQA+ Pride Day and the 50 years of the Stonewall altercations that marked the beginning of these vindicatory celebrations, three important British institutions, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry, presented a joint report (Exploring the workplace for LGBT+ physical scientists), which surveyed people within the basic sciences in relation to their situation and what it implied in the performance of their profession.
The report reveals that 28 % of LGTBIQA+ people in the world of physical sciences in the United Kingdom have at some point in their scientific careers considered giving up their jobs on account of the discriminatory environment they lived in because of their affective or sexual condition. The percentage rises to 50% for trans people.
The fact that almost everyone has felt hostility makes us indignant and should move us to action, as commented, in a seminar on diverse and inclusive science organized by the Society of Spanish Scientists in the United Kingdom (CERU/SRUK) last June 6, by the astrophysicist and disseminator Alfredo Carpineti, founder of the Pride in STEM association and the promoter, since 2018, of the celebration, on July 5, of the LGTBIQA+ pride day in the disciplines of science, technology, mathematics and engineering: #LGBTSTEMDay.
However, if we were to ask at any research centre, laboratory, technology company or university whether there is any discrimination against affective-sexual diversity, everyone would say no, that quite the opposite, that being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or of a non-conforming or creative gender has nothing to do with performing scientific or technological work, and that no person is excluded or minimised for these reasons.
What then is the matter? For those of us who live in our non-cishisheterosexual reality, however, the reality is obvious: discrimination does exist and many choose to adopt a normality that does not seem conflictive. If you are lucky, this will make it easier for you to have a more or less relaxed career in the world of science. As long as, of course, your job does not make you travel to countries where LGTBIQA+ people are discriminated against, where you will have to consider going back into the closet, forget about your partner or become that slightly nerdish but non-queer stereotyped scientist that looks good in any place, no matter how LGBT-phobic.
Several studies, such as Queer in STEM, initiated in 2013, which surveyed scientific staff in various areas, asking them about their personal situation and their perception in the research or work centre, show that the most gender-equal scientific areas are usually more inclusive also in other aspects such as sexual diversity. More masculinized areas, on the other hand, are less inclusive.
The report of the American Physics Society on LGBT Climate in Physics, published in 2016, showed how social norms in the United States are actually discriminatory. More than 40% of people surveyed agreed with the following statement: “Employees are expected not to act too gay.” The aforementioned UK report updates the data in a European context. There are no similar studies in Spain as yet, but we can make a reasonable adaptation. An even more negative one, in fact, because the LGTBIQA+ reality in Spanish science is almost completely invisible.
In Spain, in a personal analysis I made in 2018 consulting the 75 scientific societies that make up the Confederation of Scientific Societies of Spain (COSCE), I was able to verify that none of them has constituted a study group, nor undertaken specific actions, in reference to the LGTBIQA+ community. There is no research that analyses whether the people in question experience situations of inequality, nor has an inclusive campaign been carried out in these years.
In other countries, however, it can be seen that all scientific societies have been working on these issues for years. In the United States and the United Kingdom, specific actions are being organised: Pride months, meetings of scientists and LGTBIQA+ scientists, and the preparation of documents such as the LGBT+ Inclusivity in Physics and Astronomy Guide prepared in 2018 by the American Astronomical Society.
However, the situation has changed this spring, when we formed an association that, like others around the world, bears the hallmark of diversity: PRISMA, Association for Affective-Sexual and Gender Diversity in Science, Technology and Innovation, presented on Friday, June 28 in Barcelona and on July 4 in Madrid, PRISMA not only wants to increase the visibility of LGTBIQA+ people in scientific fields, but also to provide new science models, which make it more inclusive, with broad perspectives and with a clear vocation of activism for science and against pseudo-sciences.
We are alarmed at the recent news about the support of various bodies for conversion therapies, a practice dismissed by all scientific authorities as unscientific and dangerous, with sometimes devastating consequences for the families involved; or phenomena such as the transphobic bus of fundamentalist associations, which invoked science to confuse messages about sex and gender, which are particularly sensitive in a sector, that of transsexuality, which has been pathologised until a little more than a year ago by the WHO.
In a few years in which science has understood that achieving a more egalitarian society is also its struggle (ours), PRISMA proposes a more diverse science and encourages to propose touchstones, something that is still fundamental, as commented a few days ago by the mathematician Marina Logares in an interview with SINC. The manifesto that marks the official presentation of PRISMA specifies this need, as well as the need to initiate and promote research that allows for the creation of more inclusive and diverse spaces for study and work.
When the environment is inclusive and diverse, a higher quality science is produced. This was shown in a joint publication of the journals Nature and Scientific American in September 2014 in the case of ethnic diversity, and has been proven in other areas: the impact of science that establishes wide and diverse networks is measured in various investigations. And in a way, even if the science was just as good or bad, the journey would also have been worthwhile.
It is something that we are now beginning to understand as self-evident in the case of men and women in science. Going a little further to accept affective diversities seems like a logical step.
Javier Armentia Fructuoso (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 1962) is an astrophysicist and disseminator of Spanish science, a member of the PRISMA association.
Since 1993 he has been the director of the Pamplona Planetarium.