Why LGBTQ+ Inclusion in STEAM Matters
Getting into a STEAM career is no easy feat. There are lots of barriers that people face, such as being able to afford many years of higher education, and the fact that the majority of STEAM fields are dominated by white, heterosexual, cis men. The lack of visibility of professionals with whom people can identify can be discouraging enough to deter people from marginalized communities from pursuing a STEAM path. For those who have studied STEAM, there are barriers and discrimination that exists in these fields that could prevent them from finding fulfilling opportunities. And while this is clearly detrimental to people from marginalized communities, such as the LGBTQ+ community, who are passionate about STEAM, it is also incredibly disadvantageous to STEAM itself.
The advancement of STEAM fields depends on innovation, as well as an understanding of the real needs of societal development. Without a truly diverse workforce, STEAM fields are imposing their own limitations of what can be achieved. A room full of people who come from a very similar background will be limited in what they can imagine. A team of people who come from different lived experiences have so much more knowledge to contribute, as well as a more holistic understanding of the needs of society that these fields work to advance.
Imagine where the world would be, for example, in the fight against HIV and AIDS, if there had been more gay epidemiologists in the 80s and 90s at the onset of the AIDS crisis. The fact that decades later we are still fighting HIV and AIDS is a result of a lack of investment in AIDS research and resources and the [inaccurate] stigmatization of it being a “gay disease”. Or how would history look different if there were more intersex biologists? Surely we could have avoided decades of traumatic medical malpractice against the intersex community if intersex people had more agency in their own healthcare.
There is a lot of focus right now on the tech industry, as technology develops faster than lawmakers’ ability to regulate it or even the general public’s understanding of what it is capable of. It is a vital moment to have representation of marginalized communities involved in developing technology because this technology affects each of our daily lives. Who knows better about the importance of online privacy than a trans person, for example? Questionable privacy practices by tech companies could have very dangerous or damaging consequences for a trans person who could be unintentionally outed online. This could cost them a job or even their physical safety. A disproportionate number of LGBTQ+ individuals face bullying growing up, and because of this experience, LGBTQ+ adults understand the importance of combating cyberbullying. They could play a key role in minimizing opportunities for bullying on social media platforms, which are heavily used by adolescents and have already been proved to have negative effects on young people’s mental health.
The possibility of contributions that LGBTQ+ people bring to STEAM are endless. Think of the potential of what a nonbinary engineer can achieve, someone who isn’t restricted to a world full of constructed binaries and through their lived experiences has an inherent ability to think critically outside of these boxes. Or a bisexual filmmaker who can fight sexism in mainstream culture by creating stories about same-sex romances outside of harmful, tired tropes, or with well-rounded female protagonists who exist outside of the sexist stereotypes. Or the lesbian math teacher who shows young girls that math is not just a field for men, and that they too can excel in math.
The importance of LGBTQ+ involvement and leadership in STEAM fields extends beyond the community and the fields themselves. It has positive impacts for the advancement of society as a whole. However, there are also highly positive impacts for STEAM institutions and companies. As more focus turns to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the workplace, more and more studies are being conducted about the benefits of having diverse teams and leadership. Many of these studies have concluded that diverse businesses perform better and increase their potential for growth.
Access to STEAM careers is important for LGBTQ+ individuals as well. In addition to having fulfilling careers through pursuing their passions in these fields, many STEM (sorry, arts) jobs are amongst the highest paying, especially for recent graduates. Approximately 22% of the U.S. LGBTQ+ population lives in poverty (this number is higher for trans people and bisexual women, at approx. 29%). Access to jobs with livable salaries is crucial in creating economic stability for LGBTQ+ individuals. Studies have shown that tech jobs are among the best for increasing social mobility.
Of course, this access comes with many barriers, including being able to afford years of higher education. And this is assuming that one is accepted into these programs. Both STEAM educational institutes and companies have a long way to go in terms of diversifying their student bodies and workforce. Because of this, visibility of LGBTQ+ individuals working in STEAM is crucial. This visibility changes the narrative of who ‘belongs’ in STEAM, which opens up essential space for LGBTQ+ individuals who are interested in STEAM to explore those paths, as well as making space for more LGBTQ+ people in the workforce.
This diversity isn’t just about the numbers of LGBTQ+ people being hired into STEAM jobs, but having real equity practices in place to be able to authentically support and empower queer workers. In addition to having LGBTQ+ individuals in leadership positions, this means developing company cultures that actively battle against homophobia and transphobia and are embracing of different gender identities. This could look like offering ample paternity leave, which would support gay parents, or having comprehensive employee healthcare plans that includes gender affirmation care. By having these workplace practices in place, not only is it important for LGBTQ+ employees, but all employees benefit. Visibility of the experiences of current LGBTQ+ STEAM professionals is necessary in shaping these EDI policies and practices in a genuine way.
Representation and visibility of LGBTQ+ workers in STEAM benefits both STEAM fields as a whole, as well as the LGBTQ+ community. LGBT Tech’s PATHS program is working towards increasing this visibility to open up this crucial space for more LGBTQ+ involvement in STEAM, as well as removing barriers to accessing STEAM opportunities. LGBT Tech’s new program aims to empower LGBTQ+ individuals to pursue their passions and follow their PATHS.
To learn more about LGBTQ+ experiences in STEAM, check out PATHS.