Is anti-LGBTQ discrimination pervasive in academia?
Though the LGBTQ community have garnered much support in all aspects globally, experts and studies reflect some residue of the discriminatory attitude still existing in the societal thought processes. But can this attitude be reshaped in an academic setting?
Rebecca Minor, psychotherapist and gender specialist shared insights on the behavourial approach at workplaces and academia. Having additional experience as an adjunct professor, she also noted the factors triggering these behaviours.
She is a queer, consultant and clinician specialising in the intersection of trauma, gender, and sexuality. As a Gender Specialist, Rebecca partners with trans and gender-nonconforming youth through their journey of becoming, and is a guide to their parents in affirming it.
How do you look at the status of LGBTQ people in academia against that at workplaces?
Conventional wisdom suggests that the academic setting is a ‘good place’ to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+), as it is frequently portrayed as a space where personal identity is irrelevant to the learning. However, discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees in academia is pervasive and ongoing—three out of every five LGBTQ+ people working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) continue to face sexual harassment, homophobic remarks, exclusion, stereotyping, and expectations of incompetence, a study says. In the same study, it is said more than a third of the LGBTQ+ respondents expressed their desire to quit their jobs due to these prejudiced experiences. Workplaces still have a long way to go in cultivating inclusive cultures, despite a growing body of evidence that diversity enhances science.
How often do you come across complaints of assaults and bullying from your students belonging to the LGBTQ community?
LGBTQ+ professionals are more vulnerable to harassment at work. Discrimination and harassment in academia, including the sciences, is a severe problem that has a poor impact on climate, retention, and productivity. This issue causes employees to hide an important part of their identity at work, which can have dangerous consequences for mental health and career advancement, both for individual scientists and for the disciplines that could drive them away. This is shown in what is known as the “minority stress model” – which is defined as stress experienced by stigmatised minority groups. Prejudice, stigma, and discrimination, according to the model, generate a social environment defined by excessive stress, which leads to health disparities for sexual minorities. It is also found that, although colleagues of LGBTQ+ employees are not necessarily homo-bi-or-transphobic, they do not have the confidence to argue with discriminatory attitudes in the academic culture. Students who witness this kind of complicity are disappointed, saying that failing to take action in these situations perpetuates the existing prejudiced landscape.
What according to you triggers the bullying or discriminatory attitude?
Heteronormative attitudes are alive and well in science and academia. Heteronormative assumptions or beliefs that being cisgender and heterosexual are the default or 'normal' patterns, can suppress conversations concerning the wide spectrum of sexual and gender orientations. Because everyone is assumed to be heterosexual or cisgender, LGBTQ+ employees must "come out" to new coworkers every time. Due to this predominant climate in the workplace, a quarter of LGBTQ+ respondents stated they would be uncomfortable discussing job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, 46% of LGBTQ+ workers are closeted at work, and the top reason they don't report negative comments is that they "don't want to hurt their relationships with coworkers." They may try to "pass" as straight, presenting themselves as having a different social identity than they privately hold. The scientific workplace culture also discourages discussing personal life, making it more difficult for LGBTQ+ scientists to come out if they wish to.
How do you see these discriminatory practices affecting the mental health of LGBT workers?
People who could bring their complete selves to work were not only happier but also performed better, according to an article that interviewed LGBTQ+ people about their experiences in STEM. LGBTQ+ coworkers are less visible, suggesting that people may feel forced to stay in the closet to advance in their professions. This emphasizes the importance of changing workplace views so that more people feel comfortable being out at any stage of their careers.
To initiate this shift, several steps can be taken to induce a more inclusive work environment. Although many colleges and universities have LGBTQ+ employee resource groups, these groups lack a consistent definition or strategic structure to best serve their members. Realizing this gap and identifying the needs of LGBTQ+ employees should be the first step. Afterward, academic institutions should actively plan programs to meet these needs. Science-specific training that effectively supports LGBTQ+ staff and covers inclusive language is also necessary. Conducting training and workshops and ensuring the enactment and enforcement of nondiscrimination/inclusivity policies of academic institutions should be done to provide support against homophobic and transphobic bias and discrimination. Another step could be encouraging staff and students to include their pronouns in email signatures. It might seem like a small step but this could help undo cis-heteronormative views in the workplace. A continued effort to create an equal and fair working environment is required to ensure a higher quality of life for LGBTQ+ people in academia and STEM.