For gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, coming out in the lab may be easier than it used to be, but it's still a difficult decision, Nature reports.
"When I felt I could just be who I am, a full person," says Justin Trotter, a postdoc at Stanford University, "then it was definitely good for the science."
But, one challenge to coming out for scientists is that success in the STEM field relies greatly on the assessment of others. "Colleagues' opinions weigh heavily when it comes to funding, collaboration, publication, hiring, promotion and almost every other decision," Nature's Mitchell Waldrop says. "In a highly competitive environment, every LGBT researcher has to worry that coming out will trigger unconscious biases that could ruin his or her chances."
This, Waldrop says, may be why Ben Barres, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, who is transgendered, has heard from young LGBT researchers who are concerned about coming out, even in the progressive San Francisco area.
Additionally, whether LGBT people are under- or over-represented in STEM fields isn't clear because the data just isn't there. The US National Science Foundation, which pulls together stats about women and minorities in STEM fields, doesn't currently ask about LGBT identification, Waldrop notes.
While there are still hurdles, the world is changing, he adds.
"When I'm contacted by young people," Barres tells Waldrop, "I always tell them that the fears are so much greater than the reality. And I always encourage them to be open, because they will be so much happier. If you're doing good science, if you're a great teacher — that's what matters."