Post provided by Adrian Monthony (he/him)

The Rainbow Research series returns to the British Ecological Society to celebrate Pride month 2022! These special posts promote visibility and share stories from STEM researchers who belong to the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Each post is connected to one of the themes represented by the colours in the Progress Pride flag (Daniel Quasar 2018). In this post, Adrian Monthony shares changes in his life and Pride journey.  

Change is constant

Adrian advocating for LGBTQIA2S+ visibility

Since my post on this very blog last year for the Rainbow Research series, a number of things have changed! For starters, I’ve added three new letters to the end of my email signature: MSc. I’ve also left my friends and colleagues at the University of Guelph to begin my PhD in phytology at Université Laval, in Quebec City, Canada.

I’m still studying the plant Cannabis sativa, but this time, I’m looking at the epi-genetic and genetic controls responsible for changing cannabis’ sex expression. Change- is the theme of this post, and since there isn’t a colour on the pride flag for this, I’m choosing life, because isn’t change a constant of life?

With so many changes since last pride season, I’ve been reflecting on what it means for me to be queer, and more broadly, what it means to be a minority in STEM.

It’s not personal

Over the last two years, I have been more openly embracing my queer identity at the workplace; challenging the common attitude that aspects of your “personal life” has no place in science and academia. While I’ve never felt comfortable leading the march for social change, I still wanted to find ways that I could help make a difference and advocate for queer people, especially in my own milieu.

Part of this journey for me was taking up the role of a graduate student representative on the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists’ (CSPB) Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) Committee. Membership on this committee has tuned me into many issues (beyond just LGBTQ+ issues) that academic societies face, while providing me with a place to start building more inclusive plant science environment with like-minded plant scientists from around Canada.

As an officially bilingual (English/French) society the CSPB’s own EDI surveys identified the lack of French in the society’s communications and conferences as a major impediment for many of its own members, and is something that I’ve begun to appreciate more, since moving to a French speaking city in Canada to start my PhD.

For many of us, finding the pretext and the language to come out in an academic setting is awkward… and I’ve learned it is even harder in a second language. French is a very gendered language, offering you very little flexibility to speak about dates, partners, exes etc. with any ambiguity, especially if you are still mastering a new language.

Coming out in STEM

At the beginning of my PhD, I was asked to prepare a slide show to introduce myself to the lab. “Include a baby photo!”: this was a lab tradition. I thought about how this tradition -as innocent, and honestly quite cute as it is- would bring about deep pangs of anxiety for many of my trans friends.

Adrian at Toronto Pride parade

Instead, as a cis, gay, man I anxiously spent the night before the presentation debating whether I should “rip the bandage off” and come out to the whole lab at once. I wanted to avoid the one-person-at-a-time approach I had taken in my masters. I’m growing tired of trying to find ways to casually come out to each colleague while trying to make sure they feel comfortable about my sexuality.

Nevertheless, I found myself agonizing about whether to include a picture of me at Toronto Pride in my introductory slideshow… after all, I was asked to introduce myself to the lab, and part of me is that I identify as a queer man. But was I just forcing a picture from pride into this presentation? Did it matter?

Visibility matters!

Include pronouns in your email signatures, Zoom calls and social media! The pride flag emoji is your friend: A pride flag in my twitter bio has helped connect me to so many queer plant scientists, some even at my current university before I had arrived.

In my post here last year, I had described being queer in plant science like being in a daffodil in a field of tulips: we aren’t numerous in our field. However, I’m not alone: according to an EDI survey of its membership of Canadian plant biologists, the CSPB found that 23.5% of its members identify as one of the letters in LGBQA.

In a 2021 EDI survey the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists found that 23.5% of its members identify as LGBQA.

Visibility (especially on twitter) has helped connect me to some of them, and life this year, feels a bit gayer than it did last. There is still a long way to go, however, only 1% of CSPB members identified as gender diverse, and it still feels lonely to be lonely as a queer man in plant sciences, but if life in the last year has showed me anything, it’s that visibility and pride can go a long way!

You can follow Adrian on Twitter, ResearchGate and Google Scholar

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