Nuclear Engineers Need to Talk About LGBT+ Issues

An LGBT+ Perspective

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As an LGBT+ student, I find myself apprehensive about the academic atmosphere as well as the workplace. I’m not worried about success or fitting in, for the most part; I feel conflicted with my own identity and how to embrace it while at school or in the workplace. I feel as if I’m forced to choose in every new situation: do I hide it or put it on display? I’m not ashamed of my identity but sometimes I feel out of place and alone, especially in my classes which never address the social aspects of nuclear energy or industry in general. That loneliness is exacerbated by the fact that I have no idea where my peers stand on LGBT+ issues in addition to acceptance. It’s an easy topic to avoid because they’d rather not discuss it – what a frightening attitude to have when faced with LGBT+ and other social issues.

I had the realization that before I met Sam Brinton – one of the founders of Nuclear Pride – that I knew one explicitly LGBT+ engineering student. A student who doesn’t even attend my university. I had an LGBT+ community outside of my engineering pursuits but I had no support in my own classes, no context. The number of times I’ve argued with a peer about why it’s offensive and harmful to say “that’s gay” and faced complete indifference to the LGBT+ community is discouragingly high. Using “gay” as a synonym for “stupid” is harmful to the LGBT+ community because it minimizes the issues we face by turning us and our issues into a joke. My sexuality isn’t a punchline and when it’s used as such, it contributes to the erasure of LGBT+ issues.

Sometimes, I find it easier to fly under the gaydar. Not coming out can be safer in a world with so much visible hate against the LGBT+ community, however, it shouldn’t pervade my entire academic and professional life. I now know enough LGBT+ engineering students and engineers to count on two hands – a vast improvement. This has helped me see where I can play a role in nuclear engineering without abandoning my pride. Before, I could never visualize how I would present in further academic settings or the workplace and I was scared to address that.

Representation is critical to how everyone sees themselves and how their path is shaped. It enables you to learn about identities other than the dominant identity (white straight male) and to embrace your own identity. Seeing other LGBT+ people has taught me about the multitude of nuanced identities in the community and enabled me to learn about pansexuality, which I found best to describe my identity. It also facilitates learning by example: seeing LGBT+ individuals owning their identities in the workplace has been a powerful example to me. Having a community of peers is valuable, but seeing LGBT+ professionals has a huge impact on how your path is guided. Some employers are not accepting of LGBT+ employees and hiding might be safest choice; this can even lead to the fear that it’s completely unsafe to be out in a certain field and could affect career trajectory. This is a huge factor in why LGBT+ identifying people continue to earn less than our straight counterparts – our careers don’t advance because we don’t feel safe enough to take those risks that take you new and exciting places [1]. Sticking out can be detrimental even if it’s good for our careers.

As a field dominated by straight white men for much of its existence, the field of nuclear science and engineering has perpetuated this fear for me. Joining the American Nuclear Society provided me the opportunity to meet other LGBT+ students through the grapevine of allies. I count myself as lucky to have joined ANS when Nuclear Pride already existed which created a context to build my own community of LGBT+ engineers. ANS facilitated that spread of awareness for me and that is a great service. Professional communities should explicitly support minority communities by creating frameworks to uphold and spread that support. Nuclear Pride was not only a signal that it was safe me to come out to my colleagues but also a sign I could embrace my identity in my engineering community.

There are some who say that this business does not belong in a professional setting, however, it’s commonplace to ask about everyone’s significant others when it’s male-female couplings. That isn’t to say all of those couples are straight; if I were in a relationship with a man, it would not make me any less pansexual. I still hesitate to answer questions about relationships when in a professional setting and that isn’t due to any reluctance to share a private or intimate relationship – I am hesitant because I don’t know what the reaction will be. ANS embracing Nuclear Pride exemplifies an administrative decision to explicitly support a minority group within a larger context. With this support, I can feel safe about claiming my identity.

With the discussion of LGBT+ issues, it’s likely that more people will be enabled to better understand members of the LGBT+ community. It also provides opportunities for people to claim their identities in a safe space, as well as opportunities for self-actualization for those who are questioning. When you know that you have the support of your community, it is easier to find your place in the world. When you’re fighting for every shred of respect in life, you can’t afford to be vulnerable by coming out or even questioning your identity. By creating more safe spaces in ANS with Nuclear Pride and connecting everyone with more resources, we are providing more opportunities for folks to self-actualize and embrace their own identities.

[1] National LGBTQ TaskForce. Equal Pay is an LGBT Issue. Web. September 20, 2015 http://www.thetaskforce.org/equal-pay-is-an-lgbt-issue.

About the Author:

Suzanna Hinkle is an Undergraduate Student in Nuclear Engineering at The University of Pittsburgh

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We All Need Safe Spaces

SlaybaughpreferredWe all need safe spaces: places where we can feel comfortable enough to fully express ourselves. We need them to be able to focus, engage, and participate. We need them to have vibrant workplaces and fulfilled lives. Workplaces that do not engender “safe spaces” may have employees who do not live up to their potential or who do not feel comfortable speaking up when something is wrong. Currently, many spaces aren’t safe for people to be who they are, and this is having an impact on performance and achievement. What would change if we all tried to make the spaces around us a little safer? How much happier and more productive would we be?

When people feel comfortable, they can more freely participate and express themselves in whatever they are doing. This can be a workplace environment, a classroom, a friendship, etc. As a professor and a nuclear engineer, I view having safe spaces as essential to a functioning research group, classroom, and community. I want everyone to feel:

  • safe to ask questions or say “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand”;
  • safe to express concern about a process / calculation / conclusion;
  • safe to speak up if they are uncomfortable with another person’s behavior; and
  • safe to express all the parts of their identity (sexual or otherwise) they are comfortable sharing.

From an employer/employee perspective, why do we care about this? Some of the impacts of not feeling safe are very clear: if a person is not comfortable pointing out an error in a calculation or underlying assumption for any reason (Manager X doesn’t listen to me because I’m purple; Person Y disregards my opinion because I’m a ballerina; Engineer Z doesn’t hear the things I say because I like bumble bees), there could be a real safety or product problem. There are also impacts that are less immediately concrete, but still very real. Stereotype threat [1] is a term used to describe the idea that members of any group about whom negative stereotypes exist may under-perform because the negative stereotypes raise inhibiting doubts and high-pressure anxieties. These doubts and anxieties cause the individual to perform at a level that is below their true potential. Thus, being in an environment that does not feel safe can cause general under-performance across the board.

Right now, many spaces are not safe at work, in social groups, or anywhere in between—and this is having a real impact. A mild but illustrative personal example is how I was affected by the process of writing this post. I had a hard time finding a topic because I was concerned about how to position what I wrote within the context of my sexual orientation. This caused me to continually miss the deadlines I set for myself and to spend a lot of time and energy worrying about it while making no progress. Why did that happen? I didn’t feel like the community who might read this is a safe space to discuss my sexual orientation. My ultimate conclusion was to write a story in which I don’t indicate which of the myriad of LGBTQIA [2, 3] letters I view as representing me. It would be amazing to be in a world where it doesn’t matter and I would always feel comfortable, but we’re not there yet.

The point of this post is that maybe we could get there–so let’s consider how to create safe spaces. It really comes down to respect. Ensure that everyone is clear that they will be respected because of the talents and contributions they bring to the situation that have bearing on the situation. That is, they will be “measured” by performance and nothing else. Further, let’s welcome diverse opinions and views without judging those opinions and views (excluding being malicious). Having the ability to express yourself can engender the idea that different opinions are welcome–if it’s okay to be different then it’s okay to think differently, to challenge, and to disagree. Encouraging the richness of self expression encourages diversity of thought.

As we work to help people feel respected, note that people are different and they respond differently to the same things. Just because a space feels safe for you does not mean that it feels safe for someone else. We cannot assume what someone else needs; we need to actively engage with them and check in. Listening to how people feel and acknowledging that their feelings are valid is a great first step. We do not have to agree with their interpretation; however, acknowledging that someone is actually feeling unsafe will help us understand how to help them feel safe.

Everyone has something to contribute and we need everyone contributing fully. Invite people to thrive by treating them like they can, no matter who they are. Create a community where everyone’s talents can be welcomed and valued and where everyone can feel supported in expressing who they are. By building a culture of respect we can engender safe spaces. The more widespread safe spaces become, the more we all can accomplish. This is a mountain without a top; let’s strive to keep on climbing.

[1] Stereotype Threat Widens Achievement Gap. American Psychological Association, July 15, 2006. Web. August 12, 2015. www.apa.org/research/action/stereotype.aspx.

[2] LGBTQIA Resource Center Glossary. UC Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center. Web. August 13, 2015. lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/lgbt-education/lgbtqia-glossary.

[3] Moody’s LGBT Resource Group. The “A” in LGBTA, An Allies Guide. Web. August 13, 2015. www.moodys.com/sites/products/ProductAttachments/LGBT%20Allies%20Guide.pdf.

About the Author:

Rachel Slaybaugh is an Assistant Professor of Nuclear Engineering at UC Berkeley.

Nuclear Pride is going to Disneyland!

Nuclear Pride Social at ANS Winter Meeting 2014 in Anaheim California!

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Nuclear Pride will be hosting a social at the Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar on Tuesday the  11th at 8:00 p.m. We will be gathering together with members of the nuclear engineering community for fun, discussion, beverages, and community. Additionally, the Tiki Bar has a full food and bar menu.

It should be easy to find, as it is in the conference resort complex. However, please do let us know if you have any questions or need help getting there. Respond to this post or tweet @nuclearpride for the swiftest response. You can also send us an email at nuclearpride-exec@googlegroups.com.

We’ll be there at least until 10 p,m. In addition to connecting with a community of LGBTQ scientists and allies, we hope to share with you the initiatives we’ve been pursuing and want to get interested folks on board for additional plans! In particular, we’ll welcome feedback on the Member Needs Assessment Survey.

Please share this announcement with friends!

Nuclear Pride Social at ANS 2014, Reno

Reno Social

Next week at the American Nuclear Society winter  conference in Reno, NV, Nuclear Pride will gather with members of the nuclear engineering community for fun, discussion, beverages, and community.

Please share this announcement with friends!

On Tuesday night, June 17th, at 8pm we’ll meet at The Reserve in the Grand Sierra. The reserve is a ‘self-serve’ wine bar in the Grand Sierra, on the Casino Floor. The bar does have a limited snack food menu, but the focus will be wine, so fuel yourself accordingly!

It should be easy to find, as it is in the conference resort complex. However, please do let us know if you have any questions or need help getting there. Respond to this post or tweet @nuclearpride for the swiftest response. You can also send us an email at nuclearpride-exec@googlegroups.com.

We’ll be there at least until 10pm. In addition to connecting with a community of LGBTQ scientists and allies, we hope to share with you the initiatives we’ve been pursuing and want to get interested folks on board for additional plans! In particular, we’ll welcome feedback on the Member Needs Assessment Survey.

Why Illinois Marriage Equality Matters to Me

By Samuel Brinton

The summer of 2010 brings back memories of long days of amazing research at the Argonne National Laboratory and long weekends in Chicago’s Boystown celebrating Pride and summer with my LGBT community. Me being “out at work” wasn’t a very big topic of conversation but I never felt directly attacked or empowered. It was an Illinois summer of adventure, academically and personally.

I understand not being open and out in the workplace. It isn’t always easy and the conversations rarely come up. Not all conversations are positive, of course, and many remind queer employees of the stigma and prejudice we are under.  My advisor for the summer knew I was gay and has been one of the most supportive people in the field on these matters. The challenge was that he could support me however much he wanted to, but the State of Illinois would never recognize me as his equal in terms of our relationships. And relationships matter.

That all changed on November 20th, 2013 when Governor Pat Quinn signed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Actl into law which provided marriage equality to the citizens of Illinois. The law will go into effect June 1st, 2014 making a grand total of 16 states and the District of Columbia to have enacted marriage equality.

This is a monumental moment for me personally. My work at Argonne National Laboratory was exciting and challenging. I would definitely consider returning in the future to continue my research. But the specter of marriage inequality had definitely crossed my mind and made me think twice before actually pursuing that option. Now that marriage equality has been enacted there I can more honestly consider moving to the great State of Illinois and starting a family.

I’m not the only student to think twice before taking a job based on the locale and my chances of finding a supportive community. There are sure to be hundreds of young LGBT nuclear professionals looking to start a family or a settle into a home. Until the other 34 states bring marriage equality forward we will be forced to consider a balance between our love of neutrons and the loves of our lives.

Why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act Matters to Nuclear Engineers

The United States has come a long way in advancing LGBT rights in the last few years: sixteen states (counting almost-there Illinois and Hawaii) now have full marriage equality laws, the US military repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), and the Supreme Court both ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and allowed the overturn of California’s Proposition 8. However, while we have federal laws in place against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, color, and religion, we have historically fallen short in passing federal laws to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees in the workplace. According to a recent poll, most Americans support this legislation, and a surprising 80% of those polled think that such federal workplace discrimination protections are already in place. Despite some states enacting workplace protections for LGBT employees to make up for the lack of federal protections, 29 states still allow workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 34 states lack workplace protection based on gender identity. How does this affect nuclear engineering professionals? A large portion of the US nuclear workforce lives and works in states without this important legislation in place to protect the LGBT minority from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

We are now at a critical juncture. Just last week, the US Senate passed a historic measure to end workplace discrimination, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), in a 64:32 vote. Now, it is up to the House to vote on it. Unfortunately, Speaker John Boehner and many of his fellow Republican Representatives oppose the legislation for reasons that make little sense.

Why is it imperative that we, the nuclear community, speak up about the ENDA issue? The US nuclear workforce (nuclear power and technology companies, vendors, utilities, and national laboratories) is scattered among states where state-level nondiscrimination laws may not exist. Although not comprehensive, current Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that a significant portion of nuclear engineering professionals live and work in states where they are not protected against discrimination in the workplace. Among them, according to a recent Gallup Poll, an average of 3.5% is estimated to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. (Keep in mind that these are self-reported data, and the actual numbers may be much higher in reality.) This means that too many of our friends and colleagues are either not hired, denied a promotion, or go to work every day knowing that they could be fired as a result of someone’s personal judgement about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the private sector, some corporations craft their own nondiscrimination policies to fill in the gaps presented by the potpourri of state-level nondiscrimination laws. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) ranks US corporations based on its equal treatment of LGBT employees with the Corporate Equality Index (CEI). According to the 2013 CEI report, we can applaud the nuclear-related companies which rank highly on the CEI: Illinois-based Exelon as well as California-based Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric all have perfect scores. (These corporations meet all the rating criteria, which go well beyond the bare minimum of nondiscrimination policies.) Companies such as Entergy, Dominion, Duke Energy, and General Electric are close behind (though they mostly lack transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage). Unfortunately, there are countless more corporations in the nuclear industry that did not make it to the CEI report at all. Some relevant corporations have not responded to repeated invitations to participate in the CEI survey, and are thus unofficially ranked with a very low score (based on public information). A federal nondiscrimination law would at the very least require all LGBT employees to be protected from discrimination in any workplace scenario (with some exemptions such as at religious organizations).

In general, diversity is essential to the health of any workplace. It is important for the nuclear industry to understand that young talent will undoubtedly be attracted and retained more successfully if there is clear advocacy for diversity, which includes support for the LGBT community. Protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from potentially losing their job due to discrimination would be a step in the direction for needed cultural shift in the nuclear workplace. It is fitting to note that the NuclearPride executive committee has received overwhelmingly positive feedback, from both the LGBT nuclear community and its allies, simply for the creation of NuclearPride and its positive contribution to the image of the nuclear community. We, as young professional nuclear engineers, believe that generating excitement for an inclusive and dynamic workplace is essential for the attractiveness of the field and overall morale in the workplace. The more the nuclear industry can make itself a collection of diversity-supportive employers, the more the field will benefit from young talent and grow in the long term.

Nuclear engineers, call your representatives! You have strong arguments in favor of passing ENDA. We are, as a country, without protections for our LGBT workforce, and many of our own colleagues are affected by working in states without this protection. An overwhelming portion of the US population supports expanding already-existing workplace nondiscrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and it is time that our representatives in Congress start listen to their constituents. As nuclear engineers and LGBT leaders in your community, we implore you to action to bring the United States of America one step closer toward full equality for all its citizens.

Please share your personal thoughts and stories (anonymously if you wish) in the comment thread. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @NuclearPride. #passENDA

Nuclear Pride Social at ANS Winter 2013

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Join us for a social hour at Nellie’s in DC!

Next week at the American Nuclear Society winter  conference in Washington, DC, Nuclear Pride will gather with members of the nuclear engineering community for fun, discussion, beverages, food, and community.

Here’s a flyer to share with friends !

On Wednesday night, November 13th, at 7pm we’ll meet at Nellie’s Sports Bar. Nellie’s is an LGBT+ friendly place with food and beverages. Reportedly, there’s sometimes trivia on Wednesdays, so sharpen those minds!

Nellie’s is located at 900 U St NW. It should take about 15 minutes to travel there from the Omni Shoreham on the 90 or 96 bus line. If you’d like to travel to the venue with us, we’ll meet in the lobby of the Omni Shoreham at 6:45pm. Let us know if you have any questions or need help getting there. Respond to this post or tweet @nuclearpride for the swiftest response. You can also send us an email at nuclearpride-exec@googlegroups.com.

We’ll be there at least until 9pm. In addition to connecting with a community of LGBTQ scientists and allies, we hope to share with you the initiatives we’ve been pursuing and want to get interested folks on board for additional plans!

Nuclear Pride Social, ANS Atlanta Edition

Next week at the American Nuclear Society conference in Atlanta, GA, Nuclear Pride will gather with members of the nuclear engineering community for drinks and chatting.

Here’s a flyer to share with friends !

On Tuesday night, June 18th, at 8pm we’ll meet at Blakes on the Park. Blake’s is a family bar with food and music, suggested to us by a local Atlanta Nuclear Pride member! Reportedly, there’s sometimes karaoke on Tuesdays, so divas will want to practice their Donna Summer voices, just in case.

It should take 15 minutes to travel there from the conference location, as it’s at 227 10th St. NE in Midtown, just three stops north of the Peachtree Station on the gold MARTA line. If you’d like to travel to the venue with us, we’ll meet at the conference registration desk at 7:40pm. Let us know if you have any questions or need help getting there. Respond to this post or tweet @nuclearpride for the swiftest response. You can also send us an email at nuclearpride.contact@gmail.com.

We’ll be there for at least an hour. In addition to connecting with a community of LGBTQ scientists and allies, we hope to share with you the initiatives we’ve been pursuing and want to get interested folks on board for additional plans!