Religious freedom: Good law, bad uses

Indiana has caught a lot of well-deserved flak for their new religious-freedom law, and today the governor promised to clarify it to make clear that it won’t allow discrimination. People are, understandably, asking why not just scrap the law? And why would anyone think a religious-freedom law might be an OK idea?

If you read Indiana’s law, it’s actually a pretty good law — one of a class of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) that the federal government and nineteen other states also have. The ACLU supports RFRA laws as helping ensure civic freedom. These have been authored with no intent of allowing discrimination, and to my knowledge have never been successfully used as such (although there was an attempt in New Mexico, which failed in court). So let’s take a look under the hood and see what these RFRA laws really say, and what makes Indiana’s law different.¹

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Moose tracks

Here’s a guest post from my friend and (un-indicted) co-conspirator, Moose, as part of the Diversity in Science PRIDE Carnival:

I’m not really sure what topic to cover for the Diversity in Science PRIDE carnival, but I’m writing this anyways. My visibility is more important than my what-do-I-say silence, so count me in and I’ll tell you a bit about my experiences. Another queer STEM graduate student, working to make STEM fields a more welcoming place (and trying to do kick-ass research, that too). On a linguistic note, I’m going to use “queer” and “LGBTQ” interchangeably here. I intend for all identities to be encompassed by these terms.

I’ve been able to be cautiously out for much of my undergraduate and graduate school experience. From where I sit, life doesn’t have enough LGBTQ people in STEM but it’s still pretty good. I hope (let’s make this the hypothesis) that STEM fields, academia, and broader culture in the United States are all becoming more welcoming and safer for members of the LGBTQ community. National press coverage of trans and queer issues in high schools post-dates my high school career, but I’m still on the younger end of the academic track and I’ve had pretty good experiences as a queer student in STEM. Continue reading

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What if we stopped apologizing?

Among GLBTQ scientists, we often talk about when is best to come out in the job search.  Opinions range widely, from the first in-person interview to the post-offer negotiations.  We need to come out at some point, maybe because we’re trying to assess the climate in our potential new department, maybe because it’s time to negotiate support for a trailing partner.  But we fear possible biases and bigotries, and we try to minimize the risk by managing who knows what when.

If you stop and think about it for a minute, that entire conversation is built on a paradigm that being gay can only be a negative thing.  If you’re lucky, they’ll be neutral and it won’t be relevant; if not, you won’t even get an interview.  That’s a pretty defeatist attitude to take.  In moments like this we’re still basically apologizing for being gay and asking people not to hate us for it.

What would it look like if, instead, we saw being queer as one of the selling points in our application package? Continue reading


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Help! Send scientists!

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard from my fellow scientists (and others) something along the lines of, “It shouldn’t be any more important that I’m a lesbian than that I have brown eyes.”  The cultural norm seems to be to downplay being gay, to try to make it not relevant, not an issue, let’s move on please, ok?  So when I’ve been networking and advocating and what-have-you for queer science issues, I often get asked why I care?  Why does this matter so much to me?  And it’s been hard for me to put that into words.  But with a few years’ insights and hindsights, I’m beginning to articulate what I find at the tension between being queer and being a scientist.

To start with, there’s the simple fact that, as a grad student, science is much more a part of my identity than any job has ever been.  Though previously I’d studied science and worked in science, though I’ve been the one with a science background in a multidisciplinary crowd, this is the first time that I feel fully justified in claiming the label: “I’m a scientist.”  And it’s as much a statement of who I am, not just a job I do.  It’s not just a suit I put on for 9-to-5 and then go back to my real life.  To undertake – much less complete – a Ph.D. demands a deep motivation and commitment.  I’ve thrown my heart and soul into this work, damnit, and it’s drawn plenty of blood, sweat, and tears along the way.  I don’t know how to do that halfway, to give that much of myself and yet be only partly present.  I can’t keep part of me tucked away in some little box and only let it out after working hours.  Continue reading


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