LGBT+ physicists celebrated at IOP Pride of Physics event

Photo by Jess Wade

LGBT+ physicists and allies came together to celebrate their contributions to the physics community at the IOP Physics Communicators Group’s Pride of Physics event at Imperial College London on 3 August.

Speakers included Dr Ben Britton, Dr Ashley Spindler, Dr James Claverley, BBC journalist and science communicator Shivani Dave and Dr Carmen Palacios-Berraquero, winner of the 2018 Jocelyn Bell Burnell Medal and Prize. They were invited to discuss LGBT+ issues in physics and society, share their personal experiences and explore how to make physics more supportive and welcoming for everyone.
The event was jointly organised by Dr Jessamyn Fairfield, who acted as compère, recent winner of the IOP Daphne Jackson Medal and Prize, Dr Jess Wade,  Dr Sam Illingworth and Dr John Bruun to provide a safe space for people to come and feel able to be themselves, and ensure that their views were heard and respected. Dr Bruun said: “This is about sharing community values and finding that space for everyone to find their voice and keep their resilience, because it’s your community that builds you.”
Photo by Jess Wade

Dr Ben Britton talked about his work in materials physics and shared his experience of being open about his sexuality while working as a physicist. Speaking afterwards, he said: “The IOP Pride in Physics event provided an opportunity to support and sustain an under-represented group, and from it we hope to form a culture that encourages people to engage with physics research and education, and promote their contributions as people in our communities.”

Astronomer Dr Ashley Spindler talked about the difficulties of coming out and how having to do it multiple times in different contexts can be exhausting. However, she expressed a love for being open about her identity and her hope that her openness will inspire others to feel they can do the same. Ashley also spoke about the importance of people who have privilege being prepared to speak out on behalf of others who don’t, especially black, Asian and other ethnic minorities that identify as LGBT.

Photo by Jess Wade

Dr James Claverley, a scientist at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), shared his experience of hiding his sexuality for three years when he began working at NPL, which affected his mental health and productivity. It was only after coming out that he realised NPL was an inclusive environment, yet this was not widely visible. He stressed the importance of making inclusive environments more obvious, to make people feel comfortable and open about their identities and sexualities.

Shivani Dave shared her experience of coming out at university while studying physics and the challenges this presented to her as a south Asian woman. She suffered from discrimination for her sexuality and because of this decided not to pursue a science-based career through fear of the lack of inclusive environments. Speaking about the event, she said: “Pride of Physics was a fantastic afternoon that allowed us to share experiences in physics and gave us all a space to think about how we can do better to make physics more inclusive and diverse.

Photo by Jess Wade

“At first glance it isn’t obvious why sexuality, gender and ethnicity should play a role in physics, but it does and that’s why having these discussions and events is so important. Harvesting a culture that allows physicists to express their identities (through events like this and taking action as a result) will benefit not just physics, but science and wider society too.”

Dr Bruun said the communicators group found this theme to be an important one to focus on this year. “Within physics environments I think we’re seeing more of these safe spaces, but there are places historically where that’s not happening, so part of what we’re trying to do is to give individuals the skills to know how to navigate that space,” he said. “This will be beneficial to research departments because productivity and ideas will increase. But more importantly it’s about people’s lives.”

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