LGBTSTEMinar 2019

Header Photo: © Institute of Physics/Piers Macdonald

This post was written on the plane home from London, but wasn’t posted until May 5th, 2019.

Dr. Helen Pain, from the Royal Soceity of Chemistry, spoke last and closed the LGBTSTEMinar on January 11th, 2019. Some of the keywords she took away from the conference were “joyous,” “laughter,” “safety.” I honestly couldn’t have summed it up better myself.

I flew overseas, from Canada to the UK, to attend my first LGBTSTEMinar just last week. The LGBTSTEMinar is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics conference which centres the voices of LGBTQ+ folks. There were 9 science talks, two keynotes, and a panel discussion, with a major focus on the science being done by the folks presenting. This is the 4th annual event, and has been hosted in Sheffield, York, and this year at the Institute of Physics in London. Like others, whose feelings I surveyed after the event, I have a hard time explaining how incredible the day was.

This event allowed us to be our complete selves, without concern for our safety, how we might be percieved, and whether attaching our queerness to science will negatively effect our careers. I have never been to a conference quite like it - least of all a conference with as much laughter and joy - and it was incredible, not to mention the quality of the science, which included astrophysics, machine learning, molecular biology, disease ecology, and glaciology.

Today still, regular academic conferences are not a safe place for LGBTQ+ minorities; moreso for Trans/Non-binary folks than others. Occassionally they might be “technically” safe spaces, but are not inclusive, with the lack of correct pronoun usage and rampant heteronormativity. The LGBTSTEMinar fills a massive gap in current Science meetings. For LGBTQ+ minorities, it allows the celebration of science without the trouble these minorities often experience in largely straight crowds. Further, events like the LGBTSTEMinar allow LGBTQ+ folks in STEM to identify and find their communtiy within STEM.

My intention for travelling overseas for this event was mostly reconnaisance. Atlantic Canada suffers from the same problem, and in my experience does not have a strong LGBT community in STEM. It’s my intention to fix that by bringing a version of the LGBTSTEMinar to the Maritime provinces. I hope that someday events like this might be commonplace, so scientists can celebrate science and queerness together.

Leaving London today has me a bit overwhelmed. The folks I met this last week were all incredible and I can’t wait to return to catch up with them at another STEMinar. The LGBTSTEMnar was easily one of the most impactful events i’ve been to in my lifetime.