Lester Buxton (he/him)

LGBT+ visibility has grown in recent years. Not only in popular culture, where I’m sure you could name a dozen queer icons without breaking a sweat, but also in personal connections. As a gay man my friendship group is dominated mainly by other gay men, as well as different parts of the community. However, even non-queer students will be able to talk about their gay friends – and maybe also their trans or non-binary friends. Very different from our parent’s generation, or so I imagine.

But what if I were to ask you to name an LGBT+ scientist? Alan Turing might pop into your mind. Or as I overheard a Surrey student say the other day “the statue of the walking guy”. Alan Turing’s story is one that everyone should learn, but he is not the only queer person to work in STEM. We exist and at LGBTSTEMinar20 I met 250 of them.

The LGBTSTEMinar has been going since 2016 when around 40 people, mainly friends, met to discuss being queer in science and showcase their work. Since then it has grown and this year they had their biggest conference ever.

I signed up for LGBTSTEMinar19 but ended up on the waiting list and could only attend the conference drinks in the evening. Everyone was so positive about the day, so I promised myself that I would not miss it next year. I signed up with a colleague for this year’s conference without delay and booked a cheap hotel and trains to Birmingham.

The day itself was full of talks ranging from a keynote talk from a maths professor, to biology, and to particle physics. We didn’t even forget about the “E” in STEM and had an entertaining, but sombre, talk from an engineer working on nuclear fission.

We separated into workshops for leadership in STEM and building LGBT STEM networks. I attended the networks workshop which was run by oSTEM and Prism. They pointed out that we’re invisible in the queer community – the Pink Power list has had fewer than 5 STEMmers per year. This means that building these networks and putting on LGBT STEM events are vitally important.

Meanwhile, my colleague Sapphire was at the leadership workshop where they discussed how our experiences as LGBT+ people can be assets as leaders. We can be compassionate, diverse thinkers and more assertive as being visibly queer can be a radical act.

Throughout the day there was coffee and lunch breaks where we could network with other attendees, discuss talks and looks at the posters on display. Of course, there was the conference drinks where everyone could discuss the day and other topics over a drink in Birmingham’s gay village.

Next year the conference is being held at Oxford. I’ll be attending so if you want to go or get involved with LGBT STEM events here, then please get in touch!