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An Issue of Visibility

Lesbians and gays working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields are often invisible, writes the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's Manil Suri in a New York Times op-ed.

A recent estimate found that some 43 percent of the LGBT STEM workforce isn't out at work, he says. He adds that his own institution, in a move to increase the visibility of LGBT academics, asked for faculty and staff who were comfortable adding their names to website for students. He says the arts, humanities, and social sciences had about a dozen people sign up, while he was the only person from STEM departments to do so.

Suri suggests that this lack of visibility stems both from underrepresentation as well as the culture of STEM fields. The fields are problem-oriented, he says, with even lunchtime conversations focusing on work-related issues. The expression of personal identities then takes a backseat to scientific neutrality as well as to people's immersion into their fields, he says.

To break this invisibility, Suri says that "teachers must come out not just to colleagues, but to students — some of whom will need role models, and all of whom must get used to visible LGBT professionals to prepare for future workplace settings."

"More critically," he adds, "STEM culture must rein in the pressure to separate professional and personal identities. It should view its workers more holistically, welcoming their interests and differences as sources of enhanced resourcefulness."

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