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?
Diversity’s a hot topic in hiring processes these days, even in the sciences. Depending on which funding agency’s lead your field follows, the mandate might just focus on racial minorities – or just certain racial minorities – or maybe it includes women and people with disabilities, as well. GLBTQ people generally aren’t on their radar, but at least the paradigm exists for thinking that a brilliant applicant is even better if they happen to be from a minority group. Why don’t we use that to our advantage?
Really, though, we need to go beyond asking which little boxes a department gets to check off if they hire us. We need to show them why being gay makes us better scientists. OK…I’m hearing a confused silence here. So let me explain the tack that I’m trying:
If you look at my CV, you’ll find a Professional Service section that’s rather more than your average grad student’s. And most of that focuses on diversity issues in some shape or form, often through the GLBTQ community. If I tried to closet myself on my CV, I’d have to gut most of that section and rob myself of one of the strong points in my application package. My science is rock-solid, but many young ecologists can say the same thing – it’s my diversity work that sets me apart and makes me pretty thoroughly unique. We’re doing biology a bit differently here than we were a few years ago because of some of the diversity efforts I’ve led, and there’s more currently in the works. I can’t say that my research has had the same broad game-changing impact.
Admittedly, it’s not the simple fact of being queer that makes me a stronger scientist. It’s what I’ve done with the tensions of being an out queer scientist in a sometimes-homophobic world. People find all sorts of different paths to doing diversity work; mine involves the fact that I’m gay.
I’m still not sure what it will look like when we start seeing being queer as one of our strengths. But I’m living my way into that world, one day at a time. Wish me luck — and join me!