Queer Laboratory Life. The Guardian, June 2015.
This essay, written in the aftermath of Sir Tim Hunt saying something deeply stupid about women in laboratories, argues that science institutions need to extend their equality initiatives to be LGBT-inclusive and highlights how scientific systems are structured and biased against queer scientists.
When Sir Tim Hunt’s comments about women in science broke, one element in particular jumped out at me. Hunt was, he said, in favour of gender-segregated laboratories as a way of sidestepping the mess arising from scientists in love. The notion that same-sex groups would limit romance seemed rather odd, as the first woman I ever dated was on the same molecular biochemistry degree course as me. We never worked in the same lab - who knows what terrible state science might be in now if we had? – but, though a year apart, had courses, lecturers, and textbooks in common. At this distance I genuinely can’t remember whether I talked about enzyme structures as a chat-up line but, knowing my younger self, we shouldn’t rule it out.
This is not an article about Tim Hunt – there are loads of those already, and I recommend Alice Bell’s piece at openDemocracy or, indeed, the UCL Provost’s own statement. Instead, this is about what it means for queer scientists to, yet again, be overlooked in discussions of scientific careers. And it feels like a pretty important moment to have a think about what happens when the acronyms of STEM and LGBT meet each other. Same sex marriage continues to be equalized, most recently in the United States and Ireland; the term ‘cisgender’ has now made it into the OED after rattling around various journals for many years; and numerous tech companies had a presence at many of the Pride parades that took place this weekend gone.