So let me tell you all of a story. Back in undergrad, there was someone who was in the closet as a chemist. There was no one else he could really look up to as there weren’t many out and about chemists,even though he went to a very liberal school. He tried to remain in the closet, but eventually came out to his friends and was accepted right away (as they pretty much had a feeling anyway). Now this person’s undergraduate research advisor was well, not that accepting and there was lots of drama. Too much drama really. Eventually fired from his position (for a really bullcrap reason) and after almost losing a summer fellowship due to comment by former advisor, he went back into the closet even though word had spread and had become a bit ostracized in the department.
Years later this undergrad would go to grad school. Again, he came out to a few folks when starting. But it didn’t last long as the department which was said to be quite friendly to the LGBT community seemed as such in the beginning. However, there would be more drama later on and decided to pursue other avenues instead of chemistry.
Alas, that is my story. Sure I’ve been writing here for a while, but there’s a reason why I decided to go an alternative career route instead of traditional chemistry. Considering I have had people try to change who I am, and the way I live, I have decided to leave academia for a bit. Might I return? Who knows, but alas, I am a jaded and cynical chemist now.
It surprises me that as liberal and as open minded many chemists are socially and even fiscally, the topic of LGBT scientists still causes some squickyness amongst their peers. There are far too many gay grad students and undergrads who are in fact scared. Sure there may be some places with out faculty (though my grad school only had them at lecturer positions), the heterohegemony still remains a strong force in academia. The program Safespace can only do so much, as even students who I knew were bi-curious/questioning/gay/lesbian/transgendered didn’t feel comfortable talking to various faculty members who had the stickers.
Then there’s also the GLBT scientists groups. Sure, they exist,but there are no real open member directories. Why? How can young struggling scientists talk with someone who already went through what they are going through now? Where is the support structure? How can you find someone else who shares your struggles? In the end, some students just feel alienated and go through their struggle alone and sometimes even dropout of programs.
While younger chemists are more accepting, trying to get a career in industry or academia is very difficult. When applying for fellowships, I asked, should I come out? No one told me to come out. In fact, everyone I spoke with said that the statement would detract from my application and would probably cost me a fellowship.
I followed their advice begrudgingly. I got a fellowship. But at what price? To not be true to myself in the lab setting and to constantly worry in the back of my mind wondering who might know or suspect and what would they do about this information?
So now I am out and about. I’m looking for new avenues to continue my career path. Hopefully one day, chemistry will be as open to the GLBT community as it is to other minorities.