LGBT+ Scientists: history beyond Alan Turing

By Allen Drews

When it comes to British LGBT+ scientists, the one name inevitably mentioned is that of mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing. His story is undoubtedly significant in British history, but this history month I would like to celebrate current LGBT+ STEM personalities. The following list is by no means exhaustive and is simply meant to highlight some of the prominent voices who have contributed to the visibility of LGBT+ scientists and to the strive for equality in the UK.

Prof. Polly Arnold

Field: Chemistry

Currently at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in the US, Prof. Arnold is originally from the UK and a fellow at the Royal Society of Chemistry. Her research is in synthetic chemistry and has led to a better understanding of nuclear waste. She is openly bisexual and has appeared on national and international mainstream media where she advocates for inclusivity and for the equal treatment of women in the sciences. Her work has been recognised by multiple awards, including the Rosalind Franklin award for outstanding work in STEM, and she was involved in the making of the film “A Chemical Imbalance”.

She is openly bisexual and has appeared on national and international mainstream media

Dr. Clara Michelle Barker, Ph.D.

Field: Material science

Dr. Barker received her Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in2012. Now a material scientist at Oxford University where she runs the Centre for Applied Superconductivity, she has also received the Points of Light award (2017) from the UK Prime Minister’s Office for her outstanding volunteer work in the LGBT+ community. She is a transgender woman and works with various youth groups in Oxfordshire as well as speaking at national events on behalf of Stonewall to advocate for LGBT+ visibility and diversity in STEM.

Dr. Alfredo Carpineti, Ph.D.       

Field: Astronomy

After obtaining his B.Sc. in Physics and Astrophysics from La Sapienza University in Rome, Dr. Alfredo Carpineti obtained a Ph.D. in Astrophysics and an M.Sc. in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces from Imperial College London. He is now a full time science communicator in his role as writer for and speaks regularly at public events. Furthermore, he is the chair and founder of Pride in Stem, the largest UK charitable trust dedicated to support LGBT+ people in STEM, for which he was recognised as one of 100 LGBTQ trailblazers by Attitude Magazine in 2020.

Prof. Elena Rodriguez-Falcon

Field: Mechanical engineering

Originally from Mexico, Prof. Elena Rodriguez-Falcon was a Professor in Engineering at the University of Sheffield before becoming President and CEO at the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering in Hereford. Openly lesbian, she has for many years fought against stigma of being LGBT+ and an engineer, as well as promoting women in engineering via her social media. For this, she was Highly Commended by the Princess Royal in 2014 and shortlisted for the Barbara Burford Award which recognises notable LGBT+ people and their contributions to STEM research.

Openly lesbian, she has for many years fought against stigma of being LGBT+ and an engineer

The last person I want to highlight is Prof. Dave Smith of the University of York. Noted as “one of the most visible gay scientists” in the UK, he has written about the lack of representation of LGBT+ scientists, and scientists in general, in mainstream media and actively talks about the subject on his YouTube channel and via his Twitter account.  His article “No sexuality please, we’re scientists” gives a critical insight into the subject.

There are many more who are involved in LGBT+ activism in and outside of their workplace, but it would take up too much space to mention all of them. Equality in the sciences is increasing, but it would be false to say that people no longer have to fear facing backlash when coming out in the workplace. A 2019 report by the Institute of Physics of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry indicates that 28% of LGBT+ respondents considered leaving their workplace due to a climate of discrimination towards LGBT+ people, and especially transgender women, and arguably cisgender women, too, still face harassment, discrimination and bullying. Nonetheless, every year the inclusion of LGBT+ people and other marginalised groups is improving, a trend which is cause for optimism and celebration.

Image: stockcatalog via Creative Commons

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