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  • Writer's pictureDavid Manes

Straight Science: LGBT Discrimination in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

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Straight Science: LGBT Discrimination in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) carries the perception of being cold, hard numbers with sterile correctness. Straight science is only about what can be found with numbers and requires a neutral observer so that data is not tainted by opinion. In many cases, the neutral observer has been a white, heterosexual male, creating a standard of what neutral is. When STEM professionals reveal themselves to be homosexual or transgender, their neutrality and ability to perform in STEM labs is questioned.

Although the federal government does not provide specific protections to the LGBT community in employment situations, a good lawyer recognizes ways to pursue employee rights depending on the situation. LGBT members who work in the STEM field face unique discrimination, which questions a professional’s ability to provide quality data due to sexuality. Consult an employment lawyer for cases of ongoing harassment and discrimination.

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Recognizing LGBT Discrimination in the STEM Field

Science commits to neutrality, but sometimes the stereotype of what “neutral” and “conventional” is hinders the career advancement of STEM professionals who identify as LGBT. Recognizing that discrimination exists in STEM helps to change the environment.

Defining Harassment and Discrimination

Harassment – inappropriate and unwelcome remarks or actions that exclude or humiliate a person due to LGBT status.

Discrimination – unfair treatment, such as negative employment action, of a person based on LGBT status.

Symptoms of STEM Discrimination of LGBT Members

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  1. inappropriate questions asked during job interview

  2. assignments altered after LGBT status revealed

  3. verbal harassment

  4. inappropriate jokes and statements

  5. routine and constant derogatory remarks

  6. physical harassment

  7. unwanted touching such as hugging, backrubs, or back slaps

  8. violating personal space

  9. demotion due to LGBT status

  10. failure to be promoted due to LGBT status

When these symptoms of discrimination are happening in a STEM workplace, keep record of the events that lead you to believe that LGBT discrimination is the cause. Most organizations have an employee handbook, detailing how to handle possible discrimination. However, if nothing is done to resolve the situation, consult an employment lawyer for your legal solutions.

How To Fight Sexual Orientation Discrimination At Work

Examples of LGBT Discrimination in STEM

More than 2,000 STEM professionals participated in the Tech Leavers Study, which sought to understand why LGBT employees chose to leave a STEM position. Almost two-thirds of the LGBT employees who took the survey shared that ongoing harassment contributed to their decision to leave their job. If science wants to stay on the forefront of technology, this means accepting and welcoming LGBT STEM employees.

Homosexuality Employment Discrimination Example

During a late night lab experiment, Alexander came out to his team as gay. Although all seemed supportive at the time, the next week, Alexander’s boss pulled him into an impromptu meeting. His boss explained some changes in assignment had been made, moving Alexander from his original project. The next day as Alexander walked by his old lab, he stopped when he heard his name. One of his old coworkers was boasting about how he’d gotten “the gay” moved.

Transgender Employment Discrimination Example

Lizi informed her boss that she was planning to transition to male since that’s her chosen identity. Her boss said the company was behind her decision and would support it. As she made the transition, Lizi asked coworkers to change pronouns and call him Zeke. While a few did, Zeke overheard coworkers calling him “She-man.” He even heard his boss laughing over the term, and Zeke began to be overlooked for assignments that he would have received before he claimed his identity.

Bisexual Employment Discrimination Example

Melissa was outed at her STEM laboratory when a jealous male colleague saw her leaving a gay bar with a lesbian. Her boss pulled her into his office and congratulated her for her “unconventional” decision. He went on to say that he feared that this might influence the “neutrality” of her work in the STEM field and moved her to desk work. Melissa couldn’t believe that her bisexuality would cause her boss to question her quality as a professional.

Whenever LGBT status influences treatment of an employee to be disrespectful, unfair, or inappropriate, employment discrimination may be in play. Employees should work to recognize discrimination early to resolve the situation before things worsen. Consult with an employment lawyer about the LGBT discrimination occurring and what options may be available.

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Catch 22: Racial, Sexual, and Gender Minority

Certain types of stereotypes cage the STEM field. In most cases, the idea of a STEM professional  generates the mental image of a white, heterosexual male. And for most of science and technology, this standard is considered the neutral perspective. When another person becomes a STEM professional and differs from the white, heterosexual male in any way, their abilities are questioned.

Although a woman might face gender discrimination or a Hispanic man might see racial discrimination, a female or Hispanic STEM professional who identifies as a part of the LGBT community faces multiple types of discrimination. This double or triple bind can cripple a career. When a STEM professional fits into any one of these protected classes, he or she should be prepared to fight employment discrimination.

“Feminist biologists and queer—or queer-informed—biologists are likely to notice different things and ask different questions compared to people without those perspectives.” Karen Warkentin, a biology professors explains how divers perspective improve science. “People bring different ideas from their life experience that can be really helpful in solving problems. And we have better science that way.”

For LGBT engineers and scientists, employment discrimination appears in hiring and promotion practices. Although the LGBT community is becoming more and more accepted in society, LGBT members still experience discrimination in almost every area of life. Despite the fact that the law does not yet offer full protections to the LGBT community, in some cases, a smart lawyer knows how to fight for the employee rights of the LGBT STEM community.

How Can LGBT Discrimination Be Solved in the STEM Field?

Recognizing LGBT discrimination in the STEM field requires a high awareness of what is and is not appropriate in the workplace. Some simple tweaks of mindset with the STEM field can help change the culture of the work environment for LGBT STEM professionals. But change is rooted in community, learning, and openness to new ways of thought.

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1. Creating a rich and connected community

Studies show that students and employees flourish when professors or higher professionals invest in those newly in the field. This type of mentorship opens up opportunities to the LGBT members that might not have been available to them before. Whether large companies have the ability to offer such a professional mentorship, the internet provides a wealth of resources for the LGBT community who are in the STEM field.

2. Study, analyze, and listen

STEM professionals, whether engineer or scientist, pride themselves on an ability to observe and learn about various experiences in the world. When LGBT engineers or LGBT scientists face confusion for a life style choice, other STEM professionals should withhold judgment and take the opportunity to learn. STEM professionals are uniquely equipped to really learn from their peers.

3. Embrace a culture of workplace diversity

In the last few years, the United States has made an obvious push for creating LGBT-friendly workplaces. More and more businesses are seeing the benefit of competing for LGBT talent for the different perspective that they can offer. Although the federal government has yet to provide certain protections to the LGBT community, many local governments are taking a stand for equality.

Despite the idea that STEM means straight science and technology without any extra opinions, that belief is not extended to people who don’t fit the stereotype of white, heterosexual males. A neutral perspective is believed to be a Caucasian, straight man. Naturally, with that perspective, colleagues and employers often subject LGBT members to employment discrimination.

If you are a part of the LGBT community and have experienced employment discrimination of any type, contact a discrimination attorney now to hear your legal options.

Chat with a discrimination attorney: (412) 626-5626 or

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