We can all agree that becoming a scientist is hard. Learning the inner workings of a computer entails dissecting a language consisting of ones and zeroes, while engineering fields require advanced mathematical comprehension. In other words the science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) occupations are not for everyone.
Beyond the difficultly of learning the material present in STEM occupations, certain individuals have a hard time getting a foot in the door even if they hold a masters degree in science or technology. This is seen prevalently in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer/questioning community.
The U.S. Census report on the demographics present in STEM fields explains that 86 percent of engineers and 76 percent of computer scientists are male. Out of those overwhelming numbers, the majority are also white, creating an occupational atmosphere that in many ways seems uninviting to diversity.
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum are attempting to bridge this gap with its Out4STEM program. This provides Philadelphia’s LGBTQ youth with STEM-centered mentorship, helping the youth network and build confidence surrounding their identity regardless of the atmosphere around them.
“We thought about the STEM field and how conservative it can be,” said Out4STEM founder Quincy Greene. “We were wondering why there aren’t that many people out.”
Greene is currently finishing his degree in mathematics from University of Illinois, Springfield. His work in the heteronormative field led him to the strange paradox of being openly gay in his personal life but not so open in his professional one.
“It was very interesting being out because I wasn’t completely out,” explained Greene, who worked at the University of Pennsylvania in biostatistics. “I didn’t say anything because I was nervous if I did, people would treat me differently.”
Soon a fellow employee came out as a lesbian woman and Greene saw that the majority of colleagues were open minded and supportive. Greene then promised himself he would not hide his sexuality or identity in the professional space again.
The creation of Out4STEM followed soon after.
“We wanted to create a program that was like a pipeline, bridging high school and college LGBTQ youth into STEM,” Greene said. “We wanted to increase representation and reduce stigma.”
Jorge Louis Colon, an 18-year-old intern for Out4STEM, explains how finding his place in the program helped him rediscover his identity.
“It helped me find my sexuality,” Colon explained. “At first, I wasn’t really proud of it. It helped me reassure myself that who I am is okay, that my intellectuality is okay.”
– Text, video and Images by Claire Johnsen.