The Fascinating World of LGBTQ Astronomers, Astrophysicists, and Cosmologists
Astronomy is the study of the existence and motion of planetary objects outside of earth. Cosmology delves deeper into the properties of these object (such as their origin and composition), while astrophysics uses the laws of physics and chemistry to understand their nature. All three fields of scientific study exude an air of mystery and comprehension beyond most people’s everyday lives, and often intersect with the imagination.
There is an active community of LGBTQ scientists in these fields of study. This community consists of students, faculty, staff, and librarians. Like any branch of science, it is important that their work be undertaken without any degree of personal bias, harassment, or discrimination. To ensure this, they have recently organized themselves into The Outlist of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, and Ally Astronomers (see link below).
LGBTQ scientists tend to be less visible members of the community at large. They tend to be absent when high profile lists of prominent LGBTQ individuals are compiled. One of the reasons is that, by the nature of scientific research itself, one’s sexual orientation is rarely conveyed in the output. This lack of visibility of participation and success raises concerns that it deters young people from choosing science as a career in the first place.
In a 2014 survey by the Royal Astronomical Society (see link below), of those who responded 3% identified as bisexual, 4% as gay men, and 0.2% as lesbian (of the 77.5% male respondents and 21.3% female).
Another survey in the United States (2015) showed a lack of protection for LGBTQ scientists from harassment. There was a noted sense of isolation and marginalization amongst the respondents. Social norms have encouraged LGBTQ scientists to stay in the closet. Indeed, over one-third of LGBTQ scientists considered leaving their department or workplace in the past year based on their bad experience.
Organizations for LGBTQ Astronomers, Astrophysicists and Cosmologists include Pride in STEM, and American Astronomical Society – SGMA (Sexual-orientation and Gender Minorities in Astronomy). Another organization, 500 Queer Scientists (500queerscientists.com), is an online database for the STEM community and which allows individuals to contribute their biography. Their goal is to ensure the next STEM generation has LGBTQ+ role models; help the current generation recognize they’re not alone; create opportunities for community connections and greater visibility within STEM.
Clearly, there is a need for change and improvement. The fact a lesbian, Nergis Mavalvala, was a prominent member of the group of scientists who recently proved Einstein’s theory of the existence of gravitational waves is a big step forward. We applaud the following LGBTQ astronomers, astrophysicists, and cosmologists we have been able to identify below. They hail from Canada, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Great Britain, the United States, and Australia.
- Omer Blaes
- Andrew Chael
- Michael Falk
- Todd Henry
- Laura Kay
- Stephen Lawrence
- Sally Oey
- Rebecca Oppenheimer
- James B. Pollock
- Michael Ramsey-Musolf
- Jane Rigby
- Kristen Sellgren
- EJ Zita