The purpose of the Rainbow Corner is to provide a regular space for GYA members (or their colleagues) who identify as LGBTQAI+, as well as allies supporting this cause, to share brief contributions on their unique experience in academia – be it negative, positive, or (as these things often are) nuanced and complex.
Given the GYA’s mission to “Give a voice to young scientists around the world, and connect and mobilize talent from all continents”, perhaps it would be fitting for the first instalments of these GYA corners to raise awareness about some distinct challenges faced by LGBTQAI+ academics.
Even if you do not identify as anything other than cis-gender (a person whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth) and heterosexual, consider the experiences of your colleagues, students, and mentors who are not.
- Any gender identification and sexual orientation differing from the pervasive world-view of heteronormativity are still taboo in most of the world’s population, and outright banned in a large proportion of it. Even in places where differing sexual orientation is not criminalized, most of the world still does not offer any protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. (see: https://ilga.org/maps-sexual-orientation-laws)
- Having anything other than a heteronormative identity presents unique challenges and creates vulnerability when talking to others about one’s experience. Gender and race discrimination discussions don’t generally have to have the individual begin with – nor feel like they have to defend their position on – explaining that they are a woman, or a race that is discriminated against. This experience often has to be repeated in every new environment.
- Growing up in a society whose message (either explicitly or implicitly) is “You are not accepted, and in fact rejected as a valid person,” can lead to a dark and difficult personal story. Often – especially since gender and sexual identity are not issues that most people have to think about at all – a great deal of time is spent in hating or denying oneself, creating a discomfort, and at worst deep depression or even suicide.
- The additional mental taxation (fear of judgement or even personal safety) on top of the normal pressures in academia, especially as an early-career researcher trying to establish oneself and fearing negative perception.
- Challenges with international travel (conferences, sabbaticals etc.), and forming collaborations with people from cultures where anything other than cis-heteronormative is not acceptable or even outlawed.
Of course there are many diverse issues that cause disproportionate disadvantages to academics around the world, and at times it feels that it is demanded of us to take a position on and even advocate for or against so many issues.
Nevertheless, if you would count yourself among LGBTQAI+ allies, or even if you are indifferent to “activism” but disagree that there should be any discrimination based on sexual or gender identity, consider these minor actions that can have a large impact to create a more inclusive academic culture:
- Have conversations with colleagues who are open about their sexual and gender identity about if and how it has impacted their journey.
- Add simple but significant symbols such as a rainbow flag on your adverts for postgraduate students, personal website, and office door. You would be amazed how easy it is to send a message that can have profound impact on how comfortable someone might be engaging with you.
- Be aware of gender pronouns in your test and exam questions, and if possible make them inclusive as possible.
- Be supportive of initiatives that aim to make life easier for these often marginalized academics, whether it be in your classroom or communication with your class, the common lunch room in your department, or an initiative through your national academy.
We’d like to conclude by acknowledging the complexity of this issue. With such a range of laws, attitudes, personal experiences and diversity of cultures influencing and making up academia around the world – we as a working group will rarely speak for everyone and may at times be perceived as non-representative or even exclusionary.
One statement we can make definitively is this: “Sexual and/or gender identification should in no way be an impediment for, and certainly not a basis for discrimination against aspiring academics, and we as young leaders possess the influence and networks to help create a world where one’s identity in gender or sexual preference does not hinder anything about their choices and work-environment in pursuing an academic career.”
In closing, we ask our readers to consider contributing their own experiences – be they positive, negative, or otherwise – to appear in future editions of the GYA Rainbow Corner (around 500 words is the target, but length is completely up to you).
Contributions are welcome to be anonymous if preferred.