Happy Pride! LGBTQ+ Scientists Spotlight

June is Pride Month! CURes wants to take this time to highlight the achievements and contributions of LGBTQ+ scientists and advocates. According to a recent study, sexual minority college students are 7% less likely to complete a STEM degree compared to heterosexual peers. This may be due to a lack of an inclusive community, perhaps driven by an exclusive culture of dominance, or an unavailability of resources. In the future, more attention should be focused on LGBTQ+ students to better understand the biases they may encounter so they can complete degrees in their chosen fields. LGBTQ+ scientists may also face discriminations or aggressions that limit their research potential; this is particularly relevant for individuals living or working in areas with strict sexuality norms or laws. CURes encourages you to take this time to learn and think critically about how your communities can be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ concerns.

CURes recognizes that the following list is by no means complete, and that many researchers do not feel safe publicly sharing their sexual identity.

Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

Bacon argued for scientific knowledge through inductive reasoning and was an advocate for scientific methods during the scientific revolution. Some argue that he is the father of our modern scientific method.

Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

Nightingale was a nurse during the Crimean War and while there, wrote to the British Government requesting better hospital equipment and sanitation efforts. Due to these efforts, she reduced the death rate in the hospital from 42% to 2%. Nightingale also organized the first secular nursing school in 1860 at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Throughout her life, she advocated for healthcare reforms including hunger relief in India, abolishing harmful prostitution laws, and expanding female participation in the workforce.

Sara Josephine Baker (1873 – 1945)

Baker worked to improve public health in New York City, particularly combating the high infant mortality rates. She provided education to mothers, set up milk stations, created an infant formula so mothers could go to work, helped prevent infant blindness, and convinced NYC that midwives needed to be licensed. During WWI, Baker is famous for commenting that babies experienced a 6x higher death rate than soldiers. This enabled her to start a lunch program for school children, ensuring they got the nutrients they needed, and advocated for young men being ineligible for the draft due to poor health.

Louise Pearce (1885 – 1959)

Pearce helped develop a treatment for African sleeping sickness, an epidemic devastating Africa in the 20th century. In 1920, she traveled to the Belgian Congo, which was unusual for women at the time, to test trparsamide, a drug she developed with the rest of her research team. Baker worked with a local hospital and found success for both early and late stage cases. She is also recognized for her work in treating syphilis and cancer research.

Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978)

Mead was an anthropologist who studied sexuality, conducting studies in Samoa, Papua New Guinea, New Guinea, European Jewish villages, and New York City. Her work was influential in the feminist movement, as it showed that women were dominant in some of the non-Western cultures she studied. During WWII, Mead served as executive secretary of the National Research Council’s committee on Food Habits, and held various positions with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the 1970s.

Clyde Wahrhaftig (1919 – 1994)

Wahrhaftig was a geologist focused on the California Bay Area, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and Alaska. He was one of the first scientists to bring to the public the role of plate tectonics in causing earthquakes in the Bay Area. Wahrhaftig also pioneered the role of geology in environmental issues, such as the long-term effects of forestry on geomorphologic processes.

Neena Betty Schwartz (1926 – 2018)

Schwartz was an endocrinologist who studied female reproductive biology and hormone signaling pathways. She discovered the hormone inhibin, which downregulates follicle-stimulating hormone synthesis and its secretion. Schwartz’s work also played a significant role in developing modern understanding of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in endocrinology. She was heavily involved in the feminist movement as a founding member of the Association for Women in Science, initiated a class action lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health for poor representation of women on grant review committees, and co-founded the Women in Endocrinology society.

Bruce Voeller (1934 – 1994)

Voeller was a biologist, primarily researching AIDS. He was the first to use “acquired immune deficiency syndrome” to describe the disease and was a strong advocate for reducing sexually transmitted disease risks. Voeller founded the National Gay Task Force in 1973, which was able to advocate for the first meeting between the White House and LGBTQ+ leaders in 1977. This was the first official discussion of gay and lesbian rights in the White House. In 1978, he co-founded the Mariposa Education & Research Foundation to study human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases. Voeller died of an AIDS-related complication in 1994.

James Pollack (1938 – 1994)

Pollack was an astrophysicist, specializing in atmospheric science and focusing on Mars and Venus. He studied possible terraforming on Mars, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and potential nuclear winters. Pollack also used computer modelling to study Mars’ weather and storm patterns. He received the Gerard P. Kuiper Prize in 1989 for outstanding lifetime achievement in planetary science.

Joan Roughgarden (1946)

Roughgarden is an ecology and evolutionary biologist known for challenging Darwin’s theories on sexual selection based on variations she observed in non-traditional animal mating roles. She proposes the social-selection theory is a better model than sexual selection, as it accounts for behavioral and genetic influences.

Sally Ride (1951 – 2012)

Ride was a physicist and astronaut and became the first American woman in space in 1983. In total, she spent over 343 hours in space. After NASA, Ride was a professor at the University of California, San Diego, where she researched nonlinear optics and Thomson scattering (the elastic scattering of electromagnetic radiation). She also co-wrote several books for children to encourage space education. Ride is the first known LGBTQ+ astronaut.

Svante Pääbo (1955)

Pääbo is a founder of paleogenetics, which uses genetic techniques to study early humans. Along with his colleagues, he successfully sequenced Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA and published a draft of the entire Neanderthal genome in 2012. Since 1997, Pääbo has been the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Want to learn more about the LGBTQ+ scientific community? You can view this more expanded (though by no means complete) list of researchers, the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals’ list, or get even more information through Queer in STEM’s webpage or oSTEM’s webpage. Happy Pride!