Post provided by Vishwadeep Mane
For Pride Month, we are inviting LGBTQ+-identifying ecologists and evolutionary biologists to share their experiences of being LGBTQ+ in their field and present their thoughts on how the STEM can improve lives for LGBTQ+ individuals. First up we have Vishwadeep Mane, a first-year microbiology PhD student at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru.
Hello Everyone! Namaste! The world today is on the brink of a whole new era, an era of rethinking better. The Pandemic portrayed the necessity of sustainable reforms that are imperative for adapting to newer situations. Nevertheless, it brought the whole world together, gave us a reason to fight, love and respect. This month marks the ‘rebellion’ that gave voices to many unheard stories and changed the course of life of many individuals. To a greater extent, it helped in making this world a place for all with equality and respect. This ‘rebellion’ gave the moment of ‘Pride’ to possibly everyone unique in their own way. Happy Pride Month to all of you!
I have worked on microbial ecology and plant-microbial interactions since my undergraduate days. My preliminary interests include studying microbial ecological succession in natural environment and in fermentative procedures as a part of traditional medicines. Currently, I work on addressing questions like why shape matters and differs in leaves. I am working on mechanical forces and their role in leaf morphogenesis.
“The joy of acceptance when you come out to your colleagues and friends is beyond explanation”
I had always felt something unique about my identity. Although, it took much time to know my identity and orientation because of the conservative traditions, patriarchy and misogyny that have been part of human culture for a long time. But as time passed, things became clearer. I started to explore myself primarily through meeting people and knowing their story and relating it to mine. Today I identify myself as a gay person conforming to a genderqueer identity. In the meantime, since a year of my venture in exploring myself, I met my partner, Swakshadip. Much of my identity, the evolution of myself as a person, is credited to him. Being a sociology student at the University of Bristol, he could clarify my curiosity and helped me to know myself more. So, for me love is adaptation and evolution, him being the driving force. His social work of uplifting LGBT+ communities in rural areas of West Bengal State through the medium of an online platform named “Kontho”, has inspired me to work along with him for the same. I have also started to help people in distress and who are exploring their identity by properly guiding them to resources.
Bengaluru as a city is very queer friendly, that is how I would describe it. The joy of acceptance when you come out to your colleagues and friends is beyond explanation. I am out to most of my colleagues and they accept me whole-heartedly. IISc also has a vibrant LGBT+ community forum named QUASI (Queer and Straight Allies of IISc) which helps to build community, helping people on professional and personal level. It is run by the students from the community. The most amazing thing is all students are given lots of information upon their admission about QUASI and the network.
Since the decriminalization of gay sex in India in 2018, many things have become easier, however, discrimination is still prevalent. I was very delighted to know that my PhD supervisor is very understanding of LGBT+ issues, as he had earlier supervised an openly gay person without any discrimination and provided his full-fledged support. He even welcomed his student along with his partner! I feel very secure of my identity and acceptance by people in the institute, however, I also know that I have many beautiful people in my life who will come to my help if in need.
“A greater level of acceptance and respect are needed, especially in academia, which should openly endorse sexuality and gender identity of individuals”
Last year, I attended the Annual British Ecological Society (BES) Meeting in Belfast with my partner. I was pleased with the respect and gender inclusive spaces the conference provided. It helped me make connections and UK is a great country for a queer person to live freely. This is what I wish for India to progress towards as well. A greater level of acceptance and respect are needed, especially in academia, which should openly endorse sexuality and gender identity of individuals. This would create an inclusive environment, wherein people can learn, accept and more importantly evolve as a society. I believe sexual harassment of LGBT+ persons should be given equal weightage in workplaces and anti-discrimination policies need to be engraved as an indispensable part of academia. Most importantly, sensitization of people/children with respect to sexuality and gender identity should be a part mainstream education. This is how sustainable acceptance – no discrimination and equality – can be achieved in the long term.
“One can be discreet about one’s identity and we should respect that, because “coming out” phase itself is a trust-based process”
We all as persons who identify themselves as LGBT+ should also work on our own sensitization as well as educating people about it. If facing discrimination, one can seek help but also speaking out and fighting for our own identity does more for the LGBT+ community as a whole. Forging like-minded connections is an absolute necessity. One can be discreet about one’s identity and we should respect that, because “coming out” phase itself is a trust-based process. Being non-judgmental is what we can do, and sometimes challenge the outdated policies because change is necessary for evolution.
If you are an LGBTQ+ ecologist or evolutionary biologist and would like to contribute a blog for Pride Month, please email email@example.com for more information.