As protesters flood the streets demanding justice for George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, Oluwatoyin Salau, Tony McDade, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, Rayshard Brooks, Ejaz Ahmed Choudry, and countless more, our collective attention has been engulfed by calls for action across the world to end police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy across our societal institutions. Our hearts weigh heavy as marginal solutions are proposed and denial of discrimination continues. Yet despite mounting feelings of frustration and despair, we are inspired to see so many protesters take to the streets even amidst an on-going pandemic. We are comforted by the knowledge that many are working behind the scenes to drive structural changes to our institutions. We are hopeful that despite the anger and pain, real change will follow from this moment.
Pride Month has added more opportunity for discourse surrounding systemic discrimination. This year’s Pride has marked significant progress in LGBTQIA2S+ rights. There is no better symbolic moment than during Pride Month for the US supreme court to rule in favor of protecting LGBTQIA2S+ workers against employment discrimination. This is a historic and heartening victory for the LGBTQIA2S+ community. However, discrimination continues in many other areas and must be promptly confronted.
In Canada, the LGBTQIA2S+ community is not recognized as an equity-seeking group under the Employment Equity Act. Provinces do provide protection against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. However, conversion therapy is still allowed across most of the country, and discrimination based on gender expression is not federally protected. Although our Prime Minister has marched alongside the LGBTQIA2S+ community in Pride parades, many others have actively opposed policy-based safeguards. Our national queer history may differ from our neighbour’s, but even today, we are not immune from discriminatory practices.
In academic institutions and research facilities, such discriminatory practices continue to prevail. The LGBTQIA2S+ community is largely underrepresented in STEM and they further report negative workplace experiences when compared to their counterparts in other industries or relative to non-LGBTQIA2S+ scientists and academics. Many are expected to change their behaviors and to adapt to the cis-male heterosexual dominant environment of academia.
These workplace conditions are not surprising for anyone that is not part of the white abled cis-male heterosexual academic community: science has and continues to be used as a tool for marginalization. From financial barriers that reward prosperous socioeconomic backgrounds to inhumane medical treatment against marginalized groups, the scientific enterprise is more than a bystander to societal injustice — it has actively hindered progress by suffocating society from its potential. As figures of authority and trustworthiness, scientists and academics have a unique responsibility to pioneer societal change as we translate our ideals of progress and innovation to our own workplace environments.
We have come a long way from concealing the gender and sexual identity of highly accomplished LGBTQIA2S+ scientists such as George Washington Carver, Florence Nightingale, Alan Turing, Sally Ride, and Leonardo da Vinci. Today, they are revered not just for their scientific accomplishments, but for overcoming societal barriers and for paving the way for the next generation. Following in their footsteps are outstanding scientists like Dr. Jey McCreight, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Mika Tosca, and Ben Barres who, among many others, have been vocal advocates of the LGBTQIA2S+ STEM community. They have publicly revealed themselves as members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. They have shared their experiences and challenges throughout academia. They have educated their peers about better EDI practices, and they further held them accountable to engage in such measures. They have gone above and beyond their responsibilities as scientists to build a community in the image of an ideal that every single one of us should be proud to live up to. We must share their burden.
Fortunately, organizations such as 500 Queer Scientists, LGBTQIA2S+ STEM and Pride in STEM have already been working incessantly towards increasing the visibility of LGBTQIA2S+ scientists by highlighting their work across the world. Other support groups such as Spectra: the Association for LGBT Mathematicians have also allowed prospective students to inquire about the workplace climate of various institutions. Indeed, with increased visibility comes a larger personal and professional vulnerability. It is therefore incumbent upon the entire STEM and academic community to foster an inclusive and respectful environment that will alleviate the burden of all sexual-minority scientists.
Following the Women’s March in 2017 and the #MeToo movement in 2018, many academic institutions and workplaces have begun improving their sexual violence policies. Today in 2020, after the killing of George Floyd, institutions have initiated a dialogue with members of the Black community to tackle racial discriminatory practices. What will it take for us to implement effective EDI action plans inclusive of all underrepresented groups as institutions promised while signing the Dimensions Charter? Academic institutions, which historically position themselves as agents of innovation and change, have not done enough to implement policies that help to end racism and other forms of discrimination.
It is not enough to showcase LGBTQIA2S+ scientists solely during pride month or LGBTSTEM day. It is not enough to evaluate sexual violence policies only after prominent allegations of sexual misconduct emerge. It is not enough to talk about EDI when police brutality headlines the daily news cycle. We must take action now and every day to uproot systemic discriminatory barriers in order to cultivate an equitable and inclusive culture for all academics and scientists all while being mindful of intersectional needs.
Science & Policy Exchange commits to representing the widely diverse early career researcher community in our work. We will continue to strive for more diversity in our events, our membership, and our leadership, and we will continue to advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the Canadian and international research ecosystems. We also wish to facilitate better coordination with other student groups to collaborate on these issues as the next-generation are critical facilitators of change.
As academic institutions re-evaluate their EDI action plans in response to calls for action from movements like #ShutDownSTEM, #Strike4BlackLives and #Academics4BlackLives, Science & Policy Exchange further calls on the academic community to listen to the experiences of all underrepresented groups in academia, including racialized communities (Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour), women, family caretakers, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQIA2S+ community and to take action on what is learned. Let us take this moment to learn from each other. Let us propose novel, unconventional and imaginative solutions so that no one may feel excluded from STEM and academia because of their personal or societal identities. Let us lay the foundation for a set of structural policies that will be flexible to the ever-evolving cultural shifts in society. Let us live up to our ideals as leaders operating at the frontiers of knowledge and progress as we build an equitable, diverse, and inclusive community that fills us with pride.
Science & Policy Exchange’s Executive Team, Board of Directors and Volunteers