When we selected a date for the first International Day of LGBTQ+ people in STEM, our rationale was to find a time close enough to Pride Month that didn’t conflict with any other major events or days of celebration.
Since the very beginning, we have discussed July 5th as a suitable date with members of the community and organization who have taken interest in marking the day. While the date worked well for our first two years, we think a better date may exist, particularly for US audiences (due to the proximity to 4th of July celebrations), and for universities (due to it falling outside of term time).
For this reason, we included a question about the date in our recent feedback survey about LGBTSTEMDay 2019. While we were able to gain a lot of insight on other aspects, there is no consensus on what the best date might be moving forward. The multiple-answer question was set up to try to establish some parameters for proposals, however, opinions differ a lot. For this reason, before a formal announcement, we wrote this blog post as a pitch to the wider community to help us make this decision.
So, for the last month, we have been considering options – fixed date, term time, Pride Month, marking an LGBTQ+ in STEM-related date. And you won’t be surprised to know that it is very difficult and having term time and pride month, is nearly impossible for many universities. Given that our first two editions happened near Pride Month, we decided to move away and see if that changed anything.
We planned to have a series of possible dates for people to pick from but we stumbled on one that we believe it is particularly significant and timely.
Frank Kameny was an American astronomer who graduated from Harvard under the supervision of Professor Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, the first woman to head a department at Harvard and the first person to realize that stars were mainly made of hydrogen and helium.
Kameny was a gay man. He was hired in the U.S. Army’s Army Map Service in July 1957 but was fired in January 1958 because they found out he was gay. He was barred from future employment by the federal government.
He appealed his firing through the judicial system but was unsuccessful, so he took the fight all the way to the US Supreme Court. In 1960, during the October Term he fought this battle and a document (linked here) bears the date of November 18.
This date jumped out at us. As we write, the US Supreme Court is deciding if the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination, with trans rights and the personhood of trans and non-binary people being called into question. This awful attack on our community showed that while progress has been made, the rights we have fought for can easily be taken away.
Repressive and Draconian laws are still present in many countries across the globe, regressive attitudes are not only prevalent but have found new breath in the rise of fascist populism worldwide. New laws are being proposed to curtail the rights of our queer siblings in many different countries. Science, particularly genetics, has been misused and misrepresented in many of these discussions.
Next autumn marks 60 years since Kameny’s judicial battle reached its conclusion. Kameny never held a paid job again but he continued his activism until his death in 2011.
We propose November 18th as the date for LGBTSTEMDay 2020, because it felt as a particular moment when a queer scientist stood up for our community. And we hope that it could come to represent all the people that today continue to make the world of STEM a better and more inclusive place, and they make the world a better place thanks to their contribution to STEM.
If we do decide to go with this date, we propose announcing it on November 18th this year, to give our community a full year to plan and prepare for their LGBTSTEMDay activities. But before we decide, we would love to hear your feedback – maybe we have missed an opportunity for a better date, or maybe we have overlooked something with this date. Either way, please do share your thoughts, and we will work together to plan next year’s event.
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