Redefining STEM

Arti Dumbrepatil
May 30, 2023

The goal of Pride In STEM, according to the group’s website is “to break down any barriers between those who do STEM work and people who are interested in it, as well as highlight the positive and negative aspects of being an underrepresented group in STEM.”

Alfredo Carpenti, one of the founders of Pride in STEM, wants STEM to be a place “where everyone can feel that they belong.”
Alfredo Carpineti, one of the founders of Pride in STEM, wants STEM to be a place “where everyone can feel that they belong.”

Pride in STEM, established in the United Kingdom in 2016, is committed to amplifying and honoring the voices of the queer community. The charity, organized around a deed of trust, is the brainchild of Alfredo Carpineti, an astrophysicist; Matt Young, a neuroscientist and science communicator; and Chris Carpineti, a content creator in science communication. What started as a simple idea of creating a safe support group for queer scientists has grown into a powerful force redefining the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The organization was nominated for the Gay Times Honours in 2017.

“My ideal vision for the STEM field is a place where there is no harassment anymore,” Alfredo Carpineti said, “that discrimination is not even considered because it not only needs to be left at door, but it is a place where everyone can feel that they belong.”

Pride in STEM has 10 trustees representing a variety of backgrounds and identities. The organization does not have a formal membership and gauges interest based on social media followers and attendees at its events. Many of those attendees work in the biological sciences.

The founders of Pride in STEM acknowledge that cultural changes in some parts of the world have helped the LGBTQIA+ community, but they know this journey has just begun and ahead is a long road to real equality. They want LGBTQIA+ people in STEM to work and thrive without fear of discrimination.

“We love to tell the fairy tale that science is for everyone,” Alfredo Carpineti said. “But it is not true, and we need to make it for everyone just not by saying it but by taking steps to make it true.”

Alfredo Carpineti talked to  ASBMB Today about questions and problems faced by the queer community in STEM. This interview has been edited.

Q. What does Pride mean to you?

Pride means visibility, Pride means belonging, and Pride means safety.

For me, Pride is about a feeling of belonging for all the people who feel they do not belong in STEM. The queer community, people of color, underrepresented groups and women need to understand we belong in STEM, and this is what Pride stands for me.

Q. What are common issues faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in STEM?

In different aspects, we are all seeing the same limitations. The first and foremost thing that should be stamped out is harassment, which is so common in academia. I always question how it is allowed to continue and how are people in positions of power shielded from responsibility. A 2021 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM on “Equity in the STEM workforce” helped us understand the disparities between LGBTQ+ people and non-LGBTQ people.

Even within our community, there is bias. For example, a white gay man like me would have difficulties concerning career opportunities, professional devaluation and social exclusion compared with a straight white man, but I will not have the same difficulties as a woman or a queer person of color, or a trans person.

Major issues that plague this field are discrimination while securing grant funding, lack of network and peer support, intentions to leave STEM and health difficulties. While specific issues affect individuals in queer communities, once you start scratching the surface, these are the same issues faced by all underrepresented communities.

Members of Pride in STEM march in the London pride parade in 2018.
Members of Pride in STEM march in the London pride parade in 2018.

Q.  How is Pride in STEM making STEM inclusive?

We did not start with these big goals in mind. Our beginnings are way humbler. We just started as a simple networking group. We wanted to have a community where anyone could voice their concerns, talk about their problems or just come enjoy a beer.

But within the first few weeks, here in the U.K., we started getting messages from scientific societies, universities, and research institutes asking for advice on addressing LGBTQ+ issues in STEM. This was new territory for us because we were not experts; we were just a group of queer people in STEM. So, we decided to get in touch with Stonewall, which is the largest European charity operating in the U.K. for LGBTQ rights. They have advice about LGBTQ rights in the workplace so we were able to have a little list of resources that LGBTQ+ individuals in STEM might find useful. In the aspect of promoting role models, we helped organize the International Day of LGBTQ People in STEM which happens every year on Nov. 18.

To increase scientific awareness, we conduct Out Thinkers events across the U.K. Out Thinkers is an open platform to highlight LGBTQ+ researchers and bring people together. These events run in queer bars, theaters, tech companies, museums, universities or research institutions where queer scientists talk about their science and their journeys.

We also participate in a parliamentary discussion forum organized by the British Science Association to identify problems faced by the LGBTQ+ community and to promote diversity in STEM, in all its forms, from how to support family planning to promote STEM outside of major cities.

Q. How are your efforts perceived?

The negative feedback is that we are constantly told that we are bringing politics into science, or creating identity politics. Our identity is not political, our identity is politicized. Who we are is a matter of debate, because people want to debate our rights. This is completely wrong.

A positive feedback example that comes to my mind instantly is that a person whom I had known on Twitter came to me after an event and just said thank you. He said, “I had no idea that having a STEM career was possible for someone like me.”  

If I can help one person, I am very happy and proud. Our organization is doing things that are very important for the community, but if I can help one person my job is done. I think we are making a difference in the world, and my firm belief that is every mountain can be moved, it just takes one rock at a time.

Q. What is your advice to young queer STEM graduates?

My advice is that your struggles are probably big and often serious. But you are not alone. There are people like you out there and it is just a matter of finding them.

Social media is a great way to connect, and there are also places like Pride in STEM where you can get in touch with people and find people that have shared experiences or can relate to your experiences, and I think that is very important.

Humans are, after all, a social species, and by finding community, I think our burdens can sometimes be lifted. Things might not be perfect, but there is this shining hope that you can do it as others have done it — knowing that you are going to be okay because other people like you are OK.

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Arti Dumbrepatil

Arti Dumbrepatil is a freelance science writer and communicator. With her academic training plus expertise in science communication and writing, she demystifies and transforms complex, jargon-filled science into enjoyable and comprehensible content that resonates with a diverse audience.

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