Morgan O’Rourke-Liggett, Graduate Student, OSU Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences, Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna Lab
October is LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual, Aromatic, Agender, Two-Spirit, plus) History Month in the United States. As a marine biologist and member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, I publicly came out in 2016. Since then, I have been navigating coming out in the workplace. As a graduate student, I’m using this time to practice being an “out” marine biologist.
OutInSTEM, a student organization at Oregon State University (OSU), supports LGBTQIA2S+ students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It provides mentorship and connection with faculty and other students in the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Another goal is to increase visibility in the profession and foster confidence in students as they continue their professional careers. Other initiatives like OutInSTEM exist in many forms across agencies and countries.
Within the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Marine Sanctuary System created the initiative #PrideInTheOcean to celebrate both Ocean Month and LGBTQIA2S+ Pride Month, which both occur in June in the United States. This program partners with Pride Outside, a group connecting the LGBTQIA2S+ community through outdoor activities.
Some notable LGBTQIA2S+ scientists in marine studies are members and alumni of the Marine Mammal Institute at OSU. One is Dominique Kone (He/Him) who is now a marine ecologist and science officer at the California Ocean Science Trust. He is a graduate of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute and the GEMM laboratory. Dominique wrote about his story here on Ocean Wise. Another is Dr. Daniel Palacios (He/Him), Endowed Associate Professor in Whale Habitats and lead of the Whale Habitat, Ecology, and Telemetry laboratory (WHET Lab) at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute. Read Daniel’s story here on 500 Queer Scientists.
Visibility and representation are critical for multiple reasons. One is creating an atmosphere where LGBTQIA2S+ members feel validated in their experiences, allowing them to express their opinions, and recognize their contributions. Without the stress of facing potential harassment in the workplace, we can be our genuine selves leading to a healthier work environment, increased engagement, and better results.
Not everyone can be “out” in all aspects of their life. Some may be out publicly, but not at work; only out to select friends, etc. If it’s not safe (financially, physically, etc.), some people are never able to come out. Personal safety usually drives this decision. Some don’t want to expose aspects of their personal life in the workplace. Others hide it until after they have been hired or passed the probation period. Some never share due to fear of reprisal, such as being passed over for a promotion.
Despite the presence of state and federal anti-discrimination policies, micro and macro-aggressions occur in the workplace, such as transgender people having to fight for appropriate housing assignments. As a fisheries biological technician in Alaska, I was moved around several times as they had never dealt with a non-binary, transmasculine professional in their dorm rooms. I was forced to move three times and was frequently misgendered and deadnamed (deadnaming is calling a transgender person by an incorrect name, often their birth name and no longer use upon transitioning). It was a difficult situation and negatively affected my personal and work experience. I felt demoralized, disheartened, and depressed. I lost my respect for the agency and my long-standing dream of working in Alaska.
To avoid repeating my experience in Alaska, perhaps we can think critically about our labs and workspaces. The following is a non-exhaustive list of things to consider when including and thinking about LGBTQIA2S+ co-workers:
- How are transgender and other gender-diverse co-workers treated?
- Does your place of work have gender-inclusive restrooms on every floor of the building?
- Are dorms or berths separated by binary gender?
- Do the men’s restrooms have menstruation products and baby changing station(s)?
- Does your field gear include sizing options for people who have non-conforming bodies?
- If your lab does events including significant others, is the environment welcoming of same-gender spouses? How do you treat singles?
- Are your field locations in places that could be dangerous for LGBTQIA2S+ and other marginalized identities threatened by extremists?
- Do you have intake forms with gender or sex on them? Is it necessary?
- Do you use gendered language when non-gendered language can be used? (Examples from Grammarly)
- Have you examined your own preconceptions and possible role in microaggressions? (What is a microaggression? Common LGBTQIA2S+ microaggressions)
We work in an incredible profession with smart, kind, and fun co-workers. Let’s take action to ensure it is also safe and inclusive for all members.
If you wish to read other LGBTQIA2S+ scientists’ stories you can find them at https://500queerscientists.com/, https://ocean.org/blog/international-lgbtqia-stem-day-role-models-in-ocean-science/, and follow #PrideInSTEM , #LGBTQSTEMDay , and #PrideInTheOcean on social media. The first four articles in the reference section for this blog contain other peer-reviewed studies and testimonials about the importance of LGBTQIA2S+ representation in the workplace and fields ranging from geosciences to sports media.
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Fisher, Kathleen Quardokus, et al. “Developing scientists as champions of diversity to transform the geosciences.” Journal of Geoscience Education 67.4 (2019): 459-471.
Johns, Nikara. “Pride Month: Nike’s Jarvis Sam on the Importance of Queer & Black Representation in the Workplace.” 18 June 2021. Footwear News.
Kilicaslan, Jan and Melissa Petrakis. “Heteronormative models of health-care delivery: investigating staff knowledge and confidence to meet the needs of LGBTIQ+ people.” Social Work in Health Care 58.6 (2019): 612-632.
Magrath, Rory. “”Progress…Slowly, but Surely”: The Sports Media Workplace, Gay Sports Journalists, and LGBT Media Representation in Sport.” Journalism Studies 21.2 (2020): 2545-270.
Palacios, Daniel. Daniel Palacios. 2022. https://500queerscientists.com/daniel-palacios/
Robinson, Chloe. International LGBTQIA2S+ STEM Day: Role Models in Ocean Science. 18 November 2021. Webpage. https://ocean.org/blog/international-lgbtqia-stem-day-role-models-in-ocean-science/