This June, The Story Collider will be celebrating Pride Month by highlighting stories about the intersection of science and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer issues. These stories are important to be personally, because the first scientist I ever met -- really the only one I knew until I met Story Collider founder Ben Lillie in 2010 -- was my younger brother, Dan.
Ever since we were kids, he's been obsessed with the natural world. (Which usually meant that, when he went to summer camp, I had to feed crickets and other living things to his menagerie, something that still haunts me today...) But in his high school science class one year, his lab partner refused to include him in any of their work, telling him -- and I quote -- "Gay people can't do science."
Which, interestingly, is a statement that can actually be disproven by science. (Have you heard of Alan Turing, by chance? Or, I don't know, astronaut Sally Ride? Ben Barres, Margaret Mead, Sara Josephine Baker... I'll stop now.)
Sadly, Dan was used to dealing with this kind of thing from his classmates. So he approached his science teacher and explained the situation, and asked if he could change lab partners. But his science teacher was unsympathetic. Told him to just deal with it. So my brother was subjected to bullying every day in the class that should have been his greatest joy.
It broke my heart that science, something my brother loved and was so passionate about, would become something that he dreaded. It infuriated me that his teacher, the person charged with inspiring him to learn and love science, had done the opposite. This was my first glimpse into the idea that science can be exclusionary, even as early as high school, and that, for people like my brother, there can sometimes be extra obstacles the rest of us aren't subjected to. And even just in Dan's life, this barely scratches the surface.
This past March, I read about a study from Montana State University in which Dr. Bryce Hughes and his team found that students from sexual minorities leave science, technology, engineering and math degrees at higher rates than their heterosexual classmates, regardless of aptitude or enthusiasm. I can't help but think that this must be because they are overwhelmed by the same kind of obstacles my brother has faced. Especially considering the other stats, such as that 20% of all LGBT physicists in the US face "exclusion and harassment at work because of their gender identity or sexual orientation."
It drove home to me even more the importance of sharing these stories, especially since I understand the power they have to challenge people's mindsets and allow us to walk in another person's shoes. Six years ago, we had a story on the show that gave me a new perspective. In this story, Elana Lancaster's boyfriend (at the time) comes out as transgender. At first, Elana isn't totally sure how to feel about it -- until Elana sees her wearing a dress for the first time. There's a moment when Elana catches her looking at her reflection in a shop window and sees this joy in her face that Elana had never seen before... And suddenly Elana knows what to do. This moment touched me so much. Because everyone has, at some point, wanted so badly for someone they love to feel safe and confident in themselves. It made me understand in a new way how important it is to respect people’s identities and to support them being fully themselves. This is one of those stories that I sometimes just think about on the subway and start crying. I’m actually doing it now, to be totally honest with you.
So it's important to me, and to all of us at Story Collider, to share these stories. To raise awareness, to build understanding -- but also because they're just so damn good. We're fortunate to have had so many talented and fascinating people share stories about this topic with us.
So this month, The Story Collider will be doing a few things to celebrate Pride Month:
- Each of our five episodes in the month of June will include an AMAZING story from an LGBTQ+ storyteller. (You can find our first episode here.)
- On our social media channels, we'll be highlighting stories about LGBTQ+ issues from our back catalog. Follow us @story_collider on Twitter, @storycollider on Instagram, and @thestorycollider on Facebook. (You can also find some of these stories in our 2017 National Coming Out Day playlist.)
- We would also love to share your stories, or the work that's being done to advocate for LGBTQ+ issues in STEM! Tweet at us, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- We're hoping to put together a special bonus Pride-theme episode later in the month.
In addition to this, our Toronto crew is planning a show in honor of the very first international LGBTQ in STEM Day on July 5. If you're interested in sharing your story, send us your pitch at email@example.com.
Oh, and if you were wondering -- my brother is now living his best life with his boyfriend, Devon, and boxer-dachshund mix (don't ask), Cricket, working in vector surveillance and catching bugs and critters all day, just like he always dreamed. So it looks like gay people CAN do science after all, Chad!
-Erin Barker, Artistic Director