Learning from the past to spark future change

Learning from the past to spark future change

Learning from the past to spark future change 1040 800 Exploristics

By Caroline O’Hare (she/her), Business Communications and Marketing

February marks LGBTQ+ history month and provides a valuable opportunity to reflect on the positive impact of LGBT+ scientists in their research fields.

The view from the past

While famous examples spring to mind with ease such as Alan Turing, Sara Josephine Baker, Sophie Wilson and Ben Barres, information on many other historic figures remains speculative. Looking back reveals a silence that speaks volumes about the legal and societal barriers that LGBT+ people have faced for centuries.

The picture today

While much has changed in recent years in the UK in terms of the law and the wider attitudes of society, the picture is mixed globally. The advancement of science is a global endeavour. Yet there are still 69 countries in which being LGBT+ can mean breaking the law.  There is little room for complacency closer to home either. Figures from Pride in STEM suggest that only 60% of LGBT+ people working in STEM are out to their colleagues, and 50% of transgender and non-binary people have been harassed at work. Moreover, a recent survey of US-based researchers found that those from sexual and gender minorities are more likely to experience prejudice and career obstacles in the workplace. This echoes disturbing results from an earlier UK survey where almost a third of physical scientists from sexual and gender minorities had considered quitting due to harassment.

Dodging dogma with diversity

There is no doubt that scientific progress benefits from diverse perspectives to remain agile and avoid the pitfalls of dogma. Yet, current evidence suggests that STEM workplaces are still not as diverse and inclusive to LGBT+ people as they should be. So how can we change this?

Forging a brighter future

In many cases, practical changes may still be needed such as reviewing workplace policies to ensure they avoid discrimination. Inequity in pensions and parental leave can signal a lack of employer commitment to LGBT+ team members. Education and training, covering topics like the importance of pronouns and gender-neutral language, also provide steppingstones to a more inclusive workplace. They lead towards a deeper understanding of the issues that LGBT+ people face at work and more widely, every day. Joining wider LGBT+ networks and overt allies can provide further threads with which to weave greater LGBT+ inclusion into the underlying fabric of workplace culture.

Breaking the silence

Finally, highlighting the important work of LGBT+ STEM scientists, both past and present, provides essential role models for those to come. By celebrating these pioneers during LGBT+ History month and beyond, we demonstrate more clearly that society values them and their key contributions to science. In this way, we seek to break down remaining barriers for LGBT+ people in STEM to create a more vibrant and creative workplace. An environment where everyone can flourish and where silence can be relegated to the past.


For useful information on LGBT+ health and wellbeing in Northern Ireland please go to: