Impactful LGBTQ+ Women of Colour in STEM

On 22nd December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly announced 11th February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This day was established to highlight and celebrate the contributions of women and girls in Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) and tackle gender inequality in these fields.

Although it is a great initiative, over 7 years later there is still very much of lack of representation of our female STEM counterparts. Data obtained from the UN Scientific Education and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) tells us that there are less than 30% of female researchers worldwide and only 30% of female students progress onto STEM related fields in higher education. A more specific study on the gender inequality in STEM across countries shows that Latin America and the Caribbean regions had 46% female researchers, Central Asia 49% and Sub-Saharan Africa 31%. Central and Eastern Europe has a generally lower percentage of 39%, with the Netherlands having the lowest national percentage in Europe at 26.4%.  The male to female ratio of researchers in STEM tend to vary greatly from country to country but there is still a great deal of gender inequality across the board.

Despite the gender imbalance in STEM, it is unclear if these statistics include women who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Trans women are generally left out of the conversation when it comes to female empowerment in STEM and there are very few statistics available which focus on them specifically. There is also the question of where people of colour (PoC) fit into these statistics.  Although there are statistics for PoC in STEM and women in STEM independently, the studies of the lack of diversity in these fields fail to address the intersectionality between race and gender identity.

In honour of International Day of Women and Girls in Science this year, I’ve decided to mention notable queer, non-binary and trans women of colour who have continued to make their impact in STEM over the past few years.

 

Dr. Devin Swiner

Dr. Devin Swiner (she/her) is a queer African-American analytical chemist born and raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She is a co-founder of Black in Chem, an organisation that was created to shine a spotlight on Black chemists worldwide during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.  The hashtag #BlackinChem went viral on Twitter, gaining attention from the likes of rapper MC Hammer, singer Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child and actor Michael B. Jordan. Dr Devin went on to gain the Next Generation Innovator of the Year Award by The Ohio State University’s College of Art and Sciences in 2020 and received a job offer as a Senior Scientist for Merck & Co, an international reputable science company in 2021. Although now she works in the drug development sector, she still continues to remain supportive of femme chemists of colour through her platform Mac Scientists and is on the Member Board of Directors for the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) as of August 2022.

 

Kat Muloma

Kat Muloma (they/them) is a Kenyan-American theoretical chemistry PhD student at University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) who identifies as trans non-binary. They credits a ‘YouTube binge’ they indulged in during college that led to documentaries on Albert Einstein’s life that changed the way they could participate in ‘high-level scientific thought’. They are also a co-founder of Black in Chem, specifically organising ‘QueerChemBlack’ and ‘Queering Chem’ workshops and presentations that involve decolonising science, gender presentation, radical thought and AfroIndigenous scientific exploration. In 2020, they were awarded with a Simons Observatory and National Society for Black Physicists Associate Fellowship and in 2021 awarded with a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. They are still studying at UC Berkeley and continues to advocate for trans and non-binary scientists of colour worldwide.

 

Dr Izzy Jayasinghe

Dr Izzy Jayasinghe (she/her) is the Deputy Lead of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Sheffield. She is a trans woman who also identifies as a lesbian. Dr Izzy grew up in and moved from Sri Lanka to New Zealand with her family prior to her transition, crediting the country for exposing her to a ‘very liberal, diverse and inclusive society’. Upon relocating to the UK she maintains that in terms of her research she has had a ‘truly uplifting experience’ however in the past she has been misgendered and deadnamed in the workplace and suffered microaggressions by colleagues who claim to be advocates of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). In 2019, she joined Tiger in STEMM, an organisation which advocates for EDI in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine in UK higher education. Dr Izzy has won multiple awards over the years, including the Hubbard Memorial Prize from the Physiology Society of New Zealand, and the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leader Fellowship, a 6 year grant valued at £1.13 million grant. She has most recently become a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society in 2022 and continues to promote EDI in both the workplace and in academia. 

 

Jasmine Qureshi

Jasmine Qureshi (they/she) is a trans non-binary marine biologist, TV wildlife researcher, filmmaker, writer and journalist. They actively talk about a range of topics in their work including wildlife, marine life and environmental conservation. They also do not hesitate to speak out gender identity, diversity and trans rights, stating that she wishes “to raise awareness and create real change by crafting narratives and sharing others’ stories.” Jasmine has had a fruitful career as a researcher at the BBC Natural History Unit and BBC Earth, an Ambassador for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and a guest feature in CBeebies TV Show ‘Teeny Tiny Creatures’. They have also recently been featured in Attitude Magazine in an article about ocean conservation, intersectionality and queer theory with LGBTQ+ activist Noga Levy-Rapoport, BBC wildlife presenter Dan O’Neill and drag artist Bimini. In a recent panel for a conference on LGBTQ+ in STEM Day, they state that they wish to work towards more LGBTQ+ inclusion in STEM and to dispel ignorant perceptions and improve treatment of trans women in media.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *