Pondering the lack of diverse sexualities in the ocean sciences

I started this post while writing up the diversity section of my Science Online presentation, but it’s been languishing in my drafts folder for over a month. However, Dr. Glitterbear’s sad comment over at Deep Sea News prompted me to dig it out again. On a post on how to become a deep-sea biologist, Dr. Glitterbear said:

To do deep sea research, it also helps to be white, male and hetero. I was once in that field but grew weary of the homophobic attitudes. And after a prominent researcher told me that people like me don’t belong in science, I stopped fighting and switched to a field less insular and bigoted.

Now, I’m not a deep-sea researcher, but I am at an oceanographic institution with five research vessels and I do go out to sea. I agree with Peter and Kevin that it’s a lot easier to be female in the sciences these days, but I have no idea if it’s hard to be gay. That’s because I know very, very few LGBT scientists, grad students, or even undergrads. In fact, I think that I’ve only met three LGBT ocean scientists ever – Rick MacPherson, a former master’s student at SIO, and a friend in Boston who is just starting to get into marine resource management. (Along with Joan Roughgarden, but I’ve never met her.)

Since I bordered on haggery in college, it’s not for lack of knowing tons of LGBT people outside of science. But even at my very LGBT-friendly undergrad institution, I think there was only one gay undergrad in the ecology department.  And currently at SIO, I don’t know a single LGBT person.

I can think of a couple possibilities:

1) I have met lots of LGBT scientists, but I didn’t know them well enough to know about their personal lives. I’m sure this is true to some extent, but after hanging around the same place with the same people for several years, you do tend to meet most people’s SOs at happy hours and graduation parties.

2) There aren’t that many LGBT people to begin with (<10% of the total population), and there aren’t that many ocean scientists, so it’s just a function of statistics.

3) Ocean sciences are unfriendly to LGBT people, so they are not out at work or leave the field altogether. I’m also sure this is true to some extent.

What do you think?


19 Responses to Pondering the lack of diverse sexualities in the ocean sciences

  1. Irradiatus says:

    Hmmm…that’s a tough one.

    I know that in graduate school (UNC-Chapel Hill – NOT marine biology – cell, molecular and developmental bio), I had quite a few LGBT scientist friends (students/post-docs). It’s hard to know percentage-wise what proportion of the departmental population they made up. But I would say that the biology department was incredibly open and friendly to LGBT folks.

    One of my fondest memories was attending my buddy’s (unofficial) wedding in Chapel Hill. The couple happened to be both gay AND african-american, and it was attended by most of the department – it was quite a party!

    As far as undergrad…I went to small liberal arts school in Arkansas (i.e. a very blue island in a deep red state), so I doubt my experiences there are representative of any population. The LGBT population had to be at least 10%, regardless of field.

    I can’t speak at all to the ocean sciences. But I never would have guessed that the ocean sciences would be more hostile to LGBT people. Then again, we don’t have oceans in Arkansas…

  2. Irradiatus says:

    Side note – your link to “haggery” above, also revealed a hilarious new label for my vocabulary:
    “People who associate with gays, lesbians, and bisexuals may be called fruit flies regardless of their sex.”

    Now there’s one I’ve never heard before. I wonder if the Drosophila community is aware of this…

  3. and here i thought i wouldn’t need to write anything for a few days!
    Ocean Science’s Rainbow

  4. While I work in other fields of biology than ocean science in particular, I can honestly say that during my working years I have never experienced any obvious negative reactions to my being a poof. Mind you, I do live in the Antipodes, and I get the impression that we’re a little more relaxed in this regard than a lot of people in the States.

  5. frances says:

    10% makes a nice sound but but if you take that as a meme coming from Kinsey, it’s a figure better not to use. And statistics can function to say quite a lot of contradictory things depending on who’s asking and who’s interpreting.

    Rather, I’d agree with Christopher Taylor, the States is not the most relaxed place to be openly queer.

    I live in Germany and admittedly I schleppe around with a lot of queer people, but still, the number of scientists and engineers I know or have met who are dykes or trans… which is one reason why I moved here.

  6. frances says:

    oh, and I meant to say, I love your blog (^-^)

  7. I KNEW when I was writing this that I should have stayed away from the 10% statistic, but the ghost of Kinsey (and the cheer “10 Percent it isn’t enough! Recruit! Recruit! Recruit!”) compelled me. Anyway, I just wanted to make the point that LGBT people are a minority compared to the total population.

    Good point on the US. I’ve lived in urban liberal bubbles (and in the gay neighborhood of San Diego) for the past several years, so it’s easy to forget that much of the country is not as comfortable.

  8. you live in hillcrest?! i LOVE hash-house-a-go-go!

  9. Alas, should have used the past tense. We lived about a block away from Hash House (NOM NOM) for 2.5 years, but just moved into student housing in soulless UTC. The advantage is that I ride my bike to school and thus can justify consuming MORE french toast!

  10. Karen James says:

    A variation on explanation (3) is that, if there is a dearth of gay men in ocean sciences, it’s because they all went into botany.

  11. Hisly says:

    There is a relative dearth of gays and Jews in neuroscience. I’ve never met anyone gay at anything professional, but I probably have and not known it. In terms of Jewry, I’m convinced it’s due to the Mother Factor:
    “Achh, with talents like yours, you should be a doctor!”

  12. DNLee says:

    I must be a Diversity in the sciences magnet…because I know at least a dozen LG scientists. which brings me to think about the Diversity in Science Carnival..does this conversation beg a month of entries to the fabulous (cheesy pun intended) LGBT Innovators and Achievers in STEM? How should this idea be approached/introduced? (Though I consider myself an ally, I’m also sensitive about being insensitive)

    And when would be a good time to host such a blog tribute? Is there a PRIDE month?

  13. DN – I think that would be awesome. And June is Pride Month.

  14. Lyndell says:

    The LGBT parade in St. Louis is always around June 25…including a 2-day event in Tower Grove Park…it’s prob the 27-28th this year. My church always does Mass in the Park (Trinity Episcopal St. Louis). Anyway, DN, that would be a great wrap-up event for the month. We should talk. If we’re both here and you end up doing a blog tribute, there are people you should meet! 🙂

    Also, I think that we know more LGBT students because our section is EE&S, thereby more diverse and interdisciplinary merely in definition. I don’t know about oceanography, but my (albeit limited) experiences with Fisheries folks makes me suspect that Dr. Glitterbear’s experience would carry over to other Wildlife Sciences too.

  15. DNLee says:

    Sweet! June will be the official month to Salute LGBT Scientists & Engineers. I know we’re in the middle of Women’s History Month now, but I like lining things up. If anyone would like that month’s carnival of Diversity in Science shoot me a message.

  16. I’ll host, though if someone who’s actually LGB or T wants to, I’m happy to step aside.

  17. DNLee says:

    cool. I’ll reach out and if no one steps then I know I got an ace.

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