On the last day of pride month, I read an article that brought me to tears: Can Entomology Emerge as a Role Model Field of Study for LGBTQ+ Inclusion and Visibility? by Michael C. Cavallaro. This year has been extremely difficult for the LGBTQ+ community, and to read about the successes and progress made in my field towards LGBTQ+ inclusion warmed my heart and gave me hope for my fellow queer bug lovers.
Before we dive in to the article, I want to share why this topic is important to me. I identify as a queer entomologist in two ways: 1) I am queer and I am an entomologist, and 2) I am interested in the ways that entomology expands and defies western understanding and expression of gender. The natural world, especially insects, teaches us that queerness is inherently natural and expressed in diverse ways.
Image description: An intersex bee from the genus Agapostemon. The right side presents characteristics that typify a female Agapostemon: green metallic abdomen, robust legs with pollen carrying hairs, shorter, thicker antennal segments. The left side presents male characteristics, including a yellow and black striped abdomen, yellow legs with fewer hairs, and elongated antennal segments.
Cavallaro begins the article discussing “Shared Traits: Entomologists and LGBTQ+ Folks” by Rae Olsson, which mirrors many conversations I have had with my fellow queer entomologists. Us folks who grow up chasing, collecting, and admiring insects tend to be viewed as weird, odd, or even outcasts. Queer folks are often far too familiar with the feeling of being marginalized, othered, and at odds with society. But, there is an odd comfort in knowing that you are a weirdo studying something weird.
The article continues, noting the advances that ESA (The Entomological Society of America) has made in providing an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ folks and elevating their voices. We have seen these advances in the form of inviting people to include their pronouns on the annual event badges, introducing symposia on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) issues, and removing states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws from potential future meeting locations. He also points out recently identified insects that have been bestowed names of queer icons, which I wrote about during last year’s pollinator week post.
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A Cowpea weevil, which has long antennae and brown and white spots on its elytra. female cowpea weevils are known to mount other female cowpea weevils. Photo © Gene H on iNaturalist.
Cavallaro reports that 7.2% percent of ESA members have identified themselves as LGBTQ+, which reflects the U.S. national average. He notes that STEM still has many barriers to overcome as it is “rooted in a competitive and heteronormative culture” and “workspaces for queer-spectrum STEM professionals and students can be unsupportive and exclusionary.” Both STEM and entomology still have a long way to go in terms of acceptance, encouragement, and representation of queer folks.
As someone who attended a prestigious field entomology program and was called a “disney princess” on the first day, I can attest to the flippancy with which queer folks and femme-presenting folks are often treated in professional entomological spaces. It is, however, validating to witness the largest entomological organization in the U.S. taking the time to address, welcome, and better their ability to support their LGBTQ+ membership.