As a bisexual genderqueer person, I never saw or even imagined seeing myself in my classes. Then, in a college genetics class, I learned that there were biologically(!) more than two sexes. Then, in an animal behavior class, I learned that same-sex mating was pretty common in the animal kingdom. My major instantly became far more fascinating. Although early in college I had considered dropping my bachelor of science major and focusing on my bachelor of arts, my interest in what I was learning about gender and sexual diversity contributed to my sticking with my original plan.
Through my experience as a student and later as a high school science teacher, I recognized that LGBT inclusion in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula has a real effect on students’ choices. GLSEN’s research confirms this. According to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey, LGBT high school seniors whose STEM curriculum included positive LGBT content are twice as likely to choose a college major in those fields.
To me, this was no big surprise. We all have a desire to go to places where we belong, where there are people like us. Our choice in careers is not all that different from our choices in parties — we want to know who will be there and if we’re welcome before we go.
When students see themselves reflected in their curriculum and pursue STEM in college, they gain access to numerous opportunities. People with skills in STEM are in high demand for interesting and dynamic work making amazing new things and sometimes fundamentally changing the way we view the universe. STEM careers also pay well and provide a high level of job security.
While LGBT students benefit from an LGBT-inclusive STEM curriculum, STEM as a field benefits, too. When LGBT students see themselves reflected in their curriculum and choose STEM careers, diverse new perspectives are introduced into the field, which fosters new ideas and the growth of knowledge.
But what does an LGBT-inclusive STEM curriculum look like? For one, it acknowledges that nature loves gender and sexual diversity. In addition to there being more than two biological sexes, there are even animals who change their biological sex, individual animals with two sexes, and animals that have sex roles reversed from the stereotypes I had been raised learning. And same-sex mating is just the beginning of the diversity of sexual behavior in the animal kingdom. Sex, in nature, just as within human populations, has purposes far beyond reproduction that provide real benefits for individuals and their communities.
An LGBT-inclusive STEM curriculum is also one that acknowledges the lives of LGBT individuals in the field. For instance, Sally Ride was a physicist and astronaut. She was also a lesbian. Let’s talk about the whole lives of LGBT professionals in STEM so that anyone with the skills to go to space wants to get off the launch pad and go to that inclusive party in the sky.
Please encourage STEM teachers to be LGBT inclusive. There are countless reasons and opportunities to do so. Learn more about LGBT-inclusive curriculum here.
Mary Hoelscher, Ph.D. is currently out of their science classroom and working to help all teachers create inclusive classrooms as a school administrator in Saint Paul, Minnesota.