SciPolBites is a series of reflections from NSPN members about current issues in science and policy. In this SciPolBite, published in honor of Pride Month, several members share their perspectives on the inclusivity of the queer community locally, nationally, internationally, and within the scientific community.
Angela Saulsbery (LinkedIn)
Pride: A Local Perspective
As of June 1st, 2021, Ohio is the 49th state to allow transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates. It’s even possible to request a birth certificate with a non-binary gender marker (X)! According to Lambda Legal, correcting the gender marker on a birth certificate can be affirming for transgender people; an accurate gender marker also smooths the road to obtaining other correct identity documents (such as driver’s licenses). Congruent gender designations on all a person’s IDs can also reduce the risk of involuntary outing, violence, and discrimination. Since 2016, Ohio has denied transgender people the right to change birth certificate gender markers, citing “historical accuracy” as the dubious reason.
This change comes after the Ohio Department of Health declined to appeal a December 2020 federal court ruling in Ray v. McCloud, which found Ohio’s refusal to amend birth certificate gender markers upon request unconstitutional. The plaintiffs in the case suffered discrimination at work, as well as threats and harassment, because of the incorrect gender markers on their documents.
Transgender Ohioans can now correct their birth certificates through a court-ordered correction of a birth record. The Ohio Revised Code allows such a correction when information on a birth record “has not been properly or accurately recorded,” and legal name changes and changes reflecting adoptions have long been permitted.
This process requires an order from a probate court, so it still presents a barrier to updating identity documents. Probate courts in each of Ohio’s 88 counties may differ in their rules and requirements, adding further inconvenience and complexity. Applicants can, however, request a name change at the same time as a gender marker change, thereby limiting paperwork and court appearances. Also, probate courts send birth record correction orders directly to the Department of Health on behalf of the applicant. Importantly, the new birth certificates won’t show any indication that they’ve ever been amended. Detailed information about and help with this process can be found here and here.
While Ohio can celebrate its success in moving the needle forward, Tennessee has yet to allow gender marker amendments for birth certificates. The ACLU has filed suit to challenge Tennessee’s discriminatory policy on this issue. Sadly, like many areas of the United States, Tennessee remains a harsh climate for LGBT+ rights, especially transgender rights. Here’s hoping that this litigation can make Tennessee a slightly more welcoming and hospitable place for LGBT+ people who call the state home.
Michael Bellecourt (@mjbellecourt)
Pride: A National Perspective
LGBTQI+ Inclusive Development at USAID
The United States holds fast to the belief that all human beings should be treated with respect and dignity, and that all LGBTQI+ people should be able to live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love. The Biden-Harris Administration fully supports LGBTQI+ human rights defenders and activists' efforts to achieve a world free from violence, discrimination, stigma, and criminalization, both in the U.S. and internationally. These values are laid out in the Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World and backed by policy such as the recent excutive orders on Preventing and Combatting Discrimination based on Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation and Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.
Foreign assistance plays a key role in advocating for the human rights and inclusion of LGBTQI+ people. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the world’s premier international development agency, is dedicated to performing its work under the framework of Inclusive Development. This is the concept that every person, regardless of identity, is instrumental in the transformation of their own societies, and that their inclusion throughout the development process leads to better outcomes. The unique needs and barriers to development facing LGBTQI+ people are addressed in USAID’s work by including them in our policy, programming, research, and training goals.
To achieve this, in 2014 USAID created the LGBT Vision for Action to guide our approach to including and supporting LGBTQI+ people in our programming. LGBTQI+ inclusive development encourages us to account for individual country and cultural contexts, integrate LGBTQI+ issues into USAID’s broader work, support and mobilize LGBTQI+ communities worldwide, ensure safe spaces for open dialogue, and build partnerships in order to create allies and LGBTQI+ human rights champions.
To facilitate this work, USAID also funds research on the well-being and acceptance of LGBTQI+ people worldwide. We support Franklin & Marshall College in developing the F&M Global Barometers of Gay and Transgender Rights, which analyze the level of state and societal persecution of LGBT people in every country across the world and assigns them a letter grade from A (protecting) to F (persecuting). We also support the Williams Institute at UCLA in developing the Global Acceptance Index, which measures the acceptance of LGBT people across countries and over time on a ten-point scale. These metrics, alongside country-specific reports, are invaluable to USAID’s Missions — they inform their staff on how best to implement their LGBTQI+ assistance programs in a way that abides by the key principle of “do no harm” to the people they were meant to serve.
Michael Bellecourt is an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow employed as an Inclusive Development Advisor on the LGBTQI+ Team at USAID. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USAID or the U.S. government.
Pride: An International Perspective
Improving LGBTQ+ representation in STEM
Pride Month is observed each June to commemorate the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York. It’s a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, learn about its history, and continue the fight for equality. This fight includes making STEM workplaces more inclusive to people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. As STEM fields have increased efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the experience of LGBTQ+ people in STEM has been entering the conversation at the academic and grassroots level.
Very little data is available about LGBTQ+ identities in STEM. This is because sexual orientation and gender identity questions are almost never included in surveys by universities or funding agencies. What little data has been collected1,2,3,4 shows that LGBTQ+ individuals are underrepresented in most STEM fields and face high rates of harassment and discrimination. Futhermore, data on policies that would improve workplace experiences for queer and trans scientists is even more limited.
This year, a group of NSPN members has embarked on a project to compile existing data on LGBTQ+ attrition in STEM in collaboration with the United Kingdom Science and Innovation Network (SIN). Our project is part of the new NSPN Science Diplomacy Exchange And Learning (SciDEAL) program, and we aim to develop concrete policy recommendations for increasing LGBTQ+ retention in STEM for universities, funding agencies, and governments in both the US and UK. As part of our work, we are (1) surveying the academic literature, (2) hosting discussions with stakeholders across government, university, and non-profit sectors, and (3) compiling a comprehensive report which will be released later this year. Our hope is to expand upon the work of groups like the Royal Societies and InterEngineering, and to provide recommendations that are conscientious of the full diversity of the LGBTQ+ community, including the identities represented and their intersections (with race, ability, age, origin, etc.).
Our work comes at a critical time in both the US and UK. In June 2022, the UK will host its first ever global LGBT conference to tackle inequality around the world and urge countries to take action. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has appointed a Special Envoy on LGBT rights to promote the conference and champion LGBT equality in the UK and abroad. In the US, the NSF recently agreed to pilot sexual and gender identity questions in their grant surveys, an important and welcome step toward more inclusive grant funding. With this context in mind and seeing the enthusiasm with which our stakeholders have engaged on the topic so far, we are optimistic about our ability to facilitate conversations and make policy recommendations that will improve STEM workplaces for LGBTQ+ people internationally. Ultimately, the workplace policies to improve general accessibility, combat harassment, and support employees as their full selves at work are improvements for everyone that will help us build a stronger workforce capable of solving society’s most pressing issues.
Cech, E. A.; Waidzunas, T. J. 2021, Sci. Adv., 7(3). DOI: 10.1126.sciadv.abe0933
Freeman, J. B., 2020, Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 7(2): 141-148. DOI: 10.1177/2372732220943232
Sansone, D.; Carpenter, C. S., 2020, PLoS ONE, 15(11): e0241596. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0241596
Dyer, J. et. al. 2019. Exploring the workplace for LGBT+ Physical Scientists. Web: https://www.rsc.org/globalassets/04-campaigning-outreach/campaigning/lgbt-report/lgbt-report_web.pdf