Hi! Nice to meet you! I’m Isabelle, and I was lucky enough to be the WISTEMS Vice President last year while I finished off my degrees in mathematics and French. I’m currently using mathematics to help us understand hailstorms and have lots of very random facts about hail I’d love to share with you (like the biggest hailstone recorded in Australia fell last year in Queensland and was 16cm across!). Outside of science I love reading, visiting op shops, and music. Also, I just so happen to be queer.
As a panromantic and asexual non-binary person, I’m a little bit in love with the ‘+’ of LGBTQ+. I’m also a little bit in love with Pride month; after a stressful period of world news, I appreciate the little joy of being surrounded by rainbows online and around the city.
Unfortunately, pride month is done. Within the next couple of days (with respect to when I first wrote this, which may not be quite related to when you’re reading this), I’m sure I’ll be seeing companies remove the rainbow from their logos and take down their pride flags. For those of you struggling with some post-Pride month blues, or just wanting to learn more about queerness in STEM, I wanted to share some positives of inhabiting the ‘+’ as STEM student.
Crunching the numbers
Humour me for a second, because I want to do a little bit of mathematics with you. Although trying to estimate what proportion of the population is queer is really hard, mostly because we lack surveys that give us the right kind of data, estimates for the proportion of people that are queer are generally at least 3%. In young people, that number is a little higher, so let’s say 10%. So what that means is in your tute of 30 students, you can expect* around 3 queer students! Or maybe some more! What a win!
The point I’m trying to make, is that as a queer student or employee, you won’t be alone. Sometimes the queer people around you will feel more or less visible, but we’re always here! So keep an eye out for events organised by queer clubs or ally groups, because the queer family is here and ready to cheer you on. In my experience, no matter where you go in Australia, the queer community is unfailing in its willingness to welcome you, no matter what month it is.
STEM folk rock at making mistakes (which makes them great allies)
One thing that STEM teaches you is how to be wrong. Whether you’re disproving a hypothesis, debugging your code, spotting an error in your proof, or watching a model you built fall over, STEM is just as much about learning from mistakes as it is about getting things right. As a result, I’ve found STEM folk of all ages and backgrounds incredibly willing to unpack their own misconceptions about queer folk and learn how to be great allies.
Of course, not every scientist is perfect. But, in my experience, people often make mistakes with regards to LGBTQ+ inclusion out of ignorance rather than malice. As a result, I’ve found that STEM folk in particular are more open to being corrected and learning from their errors than you’d expect, which, for me, has made coming out in STEM spaces far less daunting than it might otherwise be.
Hang in there.
Lastly, I wanted to recognise that being loud and proud about queerness isn’t an option for everyone, and it’s not a privilege I take for granted.
To those of you who are out – amazing! Sometimes our existence is itself revolutionary, so thank you for reminding the world that we exist. May your life be filled with rainbows, supportive friends, and an amazing STEM career to come.
For those of you who aren’t out – I see you. You are not alone. You are queer enough. Your experiences are no less valid or less real just because you haven’t told the world your truth. I hope one day soon you will find yourself at a time and place where it is safe to be yourself, whatever that looks like. Until then, I offer you a warm virtual hug and remind you that you are more resilient than you believe yourself to be. The best is yet to come, and I can’t wait to celebrate with you when it arrives.
If this article did raise some problems for you, QLife is an awesome support service that offers support to queer folk online and over the phone 24/7. Whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone, and there are people you can reach out to.
*Let me put my maths hat on and be rigorous about this for a second. To get this expectation, I assumed that every student in the class was equally likely to be queer with probability 0.1. I also assumed that each of the students are independently queer, as in, one student being queer doesn’t make another student more or less likely to be queer. Not perfect assumptions, but my point that there are lots of queer folk at uni still stands.
About Isabelle: After completing their undergraduate degree in applied maths and statistics (and French!), Isabelle has just started their Research Masters in Extreme Event Forecasting at UNSW. They love chatting about maths and science to anybody who will listen, and are enthusiastic about pretty much everything in this domain! Isabelle is also involved in LGBTQIA+ activism and feminism, will read just about anything you put in front of them, and has a mild obsession with the Cat Empire.