Task force report

LGBT+ Climate in Physics Report

March 9, 2016

The Ad-Hoc Committee on LGBT Issues reviewed the status of LGBT physicists to assess the barriers to full inclusion within the physics community.

Input was obtained through focus groups held at APS meetings, a detailed climate survey, and a set of in-depth interviews with individuals who self-identify as LGBT. Committee members also reviewed aspects of law and policy that were deemed relevant, and drew on their own experiences and observations in building a community of support of LGBT physicists.

Summary of findings

LGBT physicists have faced uneven protection and support from legislation and policies

LGBT physicists in the U.S. face uneven legal protections with regard to employment, and some LGBT individuals are at risk for getting fired on this basis. At the time of this printing some US states are considering legislation that would criminalize the use of appropriate restrooms by trans individuals. Anti-LGBT legislation in other countries criminalizes homosexuality (e.g., India) or makes it illegal to publicly discuss homosexuality (e.g., Russia).

With regard to campus or workplace policies, 50% of climate survey respondents rated policies as “highly supportive” or “supportive,” while 30% characterized policies as “uneven,” “lacking” or “discriminatory.” Only 40% of transgender respondents rated workplace policies as “highly supportive” or “supportive,” with 49% rating these policies as “uneven,” “lacking,” or “discriminatory.”

The overall climate experienced by LGBT physicists was highly variable

About 15% of LGBT men, 25% of LGBT women, 30% of gender-nonconforming individuals characterized the overall climate of their department or division as “uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable.” Also, 30% of trans individual regardless of gender identity characterized the overall climate of their department or division as “uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable.”

About half of climate survey respondents were “out” to all or most of their co- workers, while the other half were out to only some, few or none of their co-workers. The degree of “outness” was strongly correlated with comfort level within their department or division.

In many physics environments, social norms established expectations of closeted behavior

Over 40% of climate survey respondents agreed with the statement, “Employees are expected to not act too gay,” and about 45% disagreed with the statement, “Coworkers are as likely to ask nice, interested questions about same-sex relationships as they are about heterosexual relationships.”

Isolation was a common theme for many LGBT physicists

Many LGBT physicists lack supportive professional networks, mentoring relationships, and LGBT role models that can help with navigating physics careers, particularly the frequent career transitions common for young physicists. This isolation arises due to the small percentage of individuals who identify as LGBT and their lack of visibility.

A significant fraction of LGBT physicists have experienced or observed exclusionary behavior

More than 20% of climate survey respondents reported experiencing exclusionary behavior in the past year, while about 40% reported observing exclusionary behavior due to gender, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, or sexual identity. These numbers were significantly higher (49% and 60% respectively) for trans respondents.

Reports of exclusionary behavior included sexual harassment, verbal harassment, homophobic comments, purposeful misidentification of gender, exclusion from study groups and social activities, LGBT stereotyping, and expectations of incompetence.

LGBT physicists with additional marginalized identities faced greater levels of discrimination

Women experienced exclusionary behavior at three times the rate of men.

Open-ended and interview responses revealed particular challenges for LGBT persons who were also people of color.

Transgender and gender-nonconforming physicists encountered the most hostile environments

Transgender and gender-nonconforming physicists reported the highest levels of exclusionary behavior, adverse climate, and unsupportive policies.

Transgender and gender-nonconforming physicists face specific challenges, which can include lack of health benefits, lack of access to safe bathrooms, inappropriate use of pronouns, and a profound lack of respect and awareness from others.

Many LGBT physicists were at risk for leaving their workplace or school.

Over one-third of climate survey respondents considered leaving their workplace or school in the past year.Reporting adverse climate or observing exclusionary behavior in one’s workplace or school correlated strongly with considering leaving.

LGBT physicists reported trouble identifying allies to help mitigate isolation, exclusion, or marginalization

LGBT physicists reported difficulty identifying allies. Visible allies, where they existed, proactively created safe and welcoming environments, spoke out against exclusionary behavior, and offered informed and supportive mentoring to LGBT physicists. This ameliorated academic and professional climate issues.

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