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Queer advocacy (Pride carnival)!

June 25, 2012

What does queer advocacy mean to me?

Being out and being comfortable with being out – even when it is a little uncomfortable.

When Massachusetts was all in an uproar over gay marriage, a friend of mine threw himself head-first into the foray.  He wrote his senators and lobbied.  He marched around the Boston Commons.  He tabled tables.  He collected signatures.  The photograph of him behind a big rainbow banner at a rally that a local newspaper ran on their front page is still one of the things he is most proud of.

At that time, while I was certainly one of multiple LGBT advocacy groups’ troups of flying electronic monkeys, my level of engagement was significantly lower than his.  Visiting him, I admitted to being a little embarrassed about the discrepancy, especially considering that I had much more at stake.  He disagreed with my assessment.  As as straight white (scientist!) dude, all the work he was doing was like a hobby, something to fill an odd afternoon or a day or two on a weekend.  It was, he felt, the least he could do.  I was the one who was hard core.  As a completely-out gay-married lesbian, I was being an advocate and an activist all of the time – whether I liked it or not.  And then that little twerp turned around and thanked me.

What works?


Papers aren’t published in academic journals until every author turns in that COI form.  Advocacy for being treated like a “person” instead of a “queer person” is clearly different from reporting financial conflicts of interest along side scientific findings.  But in both cases, people tend to trust “impartial” sources more.  Advocacy for a minority group by people outside of that group is usually more effective than advocacy from within that group.  My remark to HR that the affidavit stating “when my domestic partnership dissolves, I will inform HR immediately” is offensive sounds combative and whiny.  The same observation from an “impartial” straight person may trigger some introspection as to whether such a document is really necessary (and if so, uh, straight people split up too so maybe there’s a huge affidavit shortage) or at the very least result in a change in the wording from “when” to “if” and not require me to re-sign it every god-damn year.

My most effective moments of advocacy are those when a straight someone advocates for the LGBT community.  That’s going to happen more often if people know someone who is queer.  So I’m fantastically out – all the time.  Coupled with that, I try to correct misconceptions about the discrimination LGBT people face when they come up.  For example, my marriage isn’t *illegal*, just not recognized and I’m actually lucky that I can insure my family since the university is under no legal obligation to provide such coverage and, indeed, many employers do not.  A lot of very liberal highly-educated people don’t know a lot about LGBT rights and are surprised to find out how few protections there are for LGBT couples and families.  I don’t expect people to know these sorts of things and I’m happy to take the time to change that.

Despite all this low-level educating, I must admit that I’m always floored and humbled and so so grateful when an ally takes that step and advocates on behalf of the LGBT community.  Most recently I found out that there comes a time during interviews for faculty positions in which one meets with HR.  A (straight white male) friend on the interview circuit took that opportunity to ask every single HR person what the benefits packages looked like for graduate students, technicians and post-docs, inquiring specifically about benefits for same-sex couples, information he needed to place how competitive the university (and therefore he) would be at recruiting the best talent.  He argued that his motives were completely self-serving but I know that I have amazing friends.

How do these issues change your life as a scientist?

Unlike many, I find academic science to be a care-bears’ fucking tea party (at least when compared to the totally lame “real world” tea parties I’ve attended).

My wife and I grew up in small towns in different regions of the United States.  Between our high schools, there were three out/outed gay kids.  Not one – 0% – of them lived long enough to graduate.  All three committed suicide – two in “car accidents” and one with his father’s gun.  Now, both of us quietly skipped our ten year high school reunions a few years ago, so this sample is small and dated, but despite the huge strides in civil rights for LGBT people in the past decade, there is a lot of hostility out there.

I am a scientist.  I love science.  Even if my lab was frightfully unfriendly, I’d persist.  That said, academic science – for my queer ass – is a care-bears’ fucking tea party and a fabulous one at that.  Universities are fantastic employers when it comes to benefits packages for LGBT people (relative to the “real world”, which is pretty uniformly terrible).  They also collect people who, even if they aren’t socially liberal, are usually intellectually-driven enough to put aside most personal issues to figure out how to solve a problem.  If the person who can answer their question is a huge dyke who is probably going to hell, well, whatever.  Are the data good?

Nothing is perfect.  Things can always be better.  I’ll be here to tell you how.


From → Uncategorized

  1. For some reason that 0 nailed me to the floor….

  2. Not to rain on your tea party, but a lot of universities are in sad shape when it comes to same-gender partner benefits, transgender-inclusive insurance plans, etc. Part of it is that some states’ laws prohibit public universities from providing domestic partner benefits. Um, ouch.

    There’s a Nature article from a few years ago that takes a look at some of the issues, and while we’re making progress it still feels representative of today’s situation, especially since those state laws haven’t gone away. The paper is Nelson 2008, full citation and PDF can be found at

    As an academic who’s recently come from the Real World (and goes back to visit often), there are a lot of really good employers out there. And at NOGLSTP’s Out to Innovate conference two years ago, I was floored to find a number of top-tier firms actively recruiting us queer scientists. It makes perfect sense in retrospect, but I’m so used to thinking about discrimination in hiring that I just stared at the career-fair section for a minute before I could take in that THEY WANT US!

    • Of course they want us! Good employers recognize that they need to treat all employees fairly or they will be less competitive overall. I’d posit though that most universities are reasonably good employers, and typically are one of the best gigs in town for fair benefits packages and inclusive non-discrimination policies. Some towns, however, are in states that suck and the work-arounds for that are awkward at best.

      I’m not saying that a friend that joined one of the good pharma companies a while ago doesn’t have a benefits package that blows my mind with its thoughtful and complete inclusiveness. Just that my pastry chef friend, my video-editor friend, my school teacher friend, my technical editor friend, my parks employee friend, my spy friend, my public defender friend and my nurse friend have a much rawer to rotten deal in comparison to mine. I feel like it’s important to point out that I’m lucky, because things are totally unfair and there is lots of room for improvement, both at my rainy tea party but even moreso in the mediocre parts of the real world that haven’t gotten the equality memo.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. and bam! the world turns a little bit. | DrugMonkey
  2. It’s here! The DiS PRIDE CARNIVAL! | Balanced Instability

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