Will I be safe applying for a job at your school?

This is the third in a series of blog posts to be released this quarter by the ASCB LGBTQ+ committee under the theme of “Building a Welcoming Community for LGBTQ+ Scientists.” In this post, postdoctoral fellow Arthur Charles-Orszag shares some thoughts on what it is like to search for an academic position as an LGBTQ+ scientist and what institutions should do to help.

Among the global surge in hate crimes targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community, our straight, cis-gender, and ally colleagues might want to keep in mind what it means to belong to our community when we are looking to start a career in academia. While I can’t speak for all of us, I thought I would address a number of extra considerations that some of us need to think about when it comes to finding a job. ~ Claire Thomas

You may go where the job is, not your community

According to recent surveys, people identifying as lesbian, gay, bi, or transexual represent as little as 4.5% of the adult population of the United States[1]. As expected, most of us concentrate in larger metropolitan areas[2]. In sharp contrast, hate crimes based on sexual orientation represent 16.7% of all hate crimes, which is likely an underestimate, as a number of cities have declined to report hate crimes to federal agencies (or have reported zero)[3]. These alarming numbers just go to show how hostile the world still is toward members of our community, and how crucial it is for us to find a place to start a lab where we can be physically safe. Unfortunately, when it comes to finding a job in academia, one often ends up going where a job offer was extended, which might not be in a large metropolitan area with a well-developed LGBTQ+ community.

Can I bring my whole self to the job?

Outside of such life and death considerations, belonging to the LGBTQ+ community often requires having to come out to our family and peers—or not. Coming out is something that we have to do repeatedly throughout our life: every time we meet new friends, every time we change jobs, every time we get new coworkers. Even in cases where we feel comfortable being openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or non-binary, we often use some level of self-suppression in order to feel safe or to merely fit in. Take a job interview, for example. While it makes sense that several codes and conventions need to be met to demonstrate seriousness and that everyone might want to somehow smooth out one’s personality, some LGBTQ+ people might feel the need to code switch way more extensively in order to merely “pass.” How can we know just how accepting a new work environment is? Or will be? Sadly, it is often reasonable to assume that it won’t be.

Starting a family

Lastly, being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or non-binary person often comes with a complex, non-traditional family structure, mainly because of the legal struggles to get married or have children. As a result, we often tend to build a family much later than our straight or gender-conforming counterparts—if we do it at all. This means that by the time we are ready to apply for jobs in academia at, let’s say 30+ years old, the chances are that we are not married and don’t have children. In other words, the place where we end up getting a years-long position is also the place where we will be trying to build a family from scratch. With the large LGBTQ+ communities that have already extended the norm being concentrated in larger cities, accepting a job in a smaller town can represent a major dilemma. Are we going to be able to find partners there? Are our families going to be accepted and safe? Must we give up the prospect of a healthy work-life balance in order to secure a competitive job?

What schools must do

Now, what is the role of schools in all this? While there may be little that institutions can do to mitigate homophobia and transphobia in their surrounding townships, they should at least work toward building an openly supportive environment on campus. If they are serious, they should also make it obvious, on their websites and in other forums, to members of our community—anywhere from students to faculty—that we are not only welcome, but also that we will be protected by their administrative rules and structures, and that we won’t be left alone and unheard. It is a simple thing to provide a packet of information to all interviewees that lays out the inclusive nature of an institution.

In summary, our non-LGBTQ+ colleagues should keep in mind that being LGBTQ+ is still not fully accepted, can be unsafe, and comes with a number of burdens and specific difficulties—most of which will never be openly voiced—that can represent serious obstacles to pursuing an academic career. Now more than ever, it is time to hear and support us.

[1] https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx

[2] Gates, G. J. (2006). Same-Sex Couples and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Population: New Estimates from the American Community Survey. UCLA: The Williams Institute. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8h08t0zf

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/nearly-1-5-hate-crimes-motivated-anti-lgbtq-bias-fbi-n1080891

About the Author:

Arthur Charles-Orszag is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. He earned his PhD in Paris where he worked on the cell biology of host-pathogen interactions, before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area where he now studies the cell biology of extremophilic archaea. @A_CharlesOrszag