On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) delivered a historic civil rights decision. It is now the law of the land that same-sex couples have the right to marry. This decision puts the United States into a select group of 21 other countries in which same-sex marriage or civil unions are allowed. The SCOTUS decision has implications related to individual liberties and moral issues, but also in businesses and the general workforce.
Benefits for LGBTQ Scientists
What does the Supreme Court’s decision bring to the scientific workforce and to LGBTQ scientists in general? A first clear positive effect will be the right to file for benefits for partners any place in the country, since marriage is now available to all couples. Thus it is expected that all U.S. research institutions will have to recognize same-sex married couples, providing employees with spousal benefits just as they do for married heterosexuals.
This is happening right now in several states. For instance, the University of Georgia system, which previously followed state rules denying benefits for gay couples, included same-sex partners on its benefit programs right after the SCOTUS decision on June 26. Similar actions occured in Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida, which previously had rulings against such benefits. The fact that LGBTQ scientists can provide benefits (such as health insurance) to their spouses will probably allow gay scientists to apply to grad schools or for jobs and/or postdoctoral positions in places they would not have considered before June 26.
Despite the right to marriage being the law of the land, places can be more or less “welcoming” to openly gay scientists. Some universities do not include “sexual orientation” as part of their nondiscrimination statements. Instead, they use the phrase “other applicable status protected by law,” which may (or may not) include LGBTQ minorities. Prospective students, postdocs, and job seekers still need to closely examine university and research institution statements on diversity. These can tell you a lot about the environment you might find in your new workplace.
Private and religious academic institutions can still be difficult for openly gay scientists. Religious institutions may be able to claim First Amendment protection for discriminatory practices. Also a significant number of universities offer “diversity/minority awards” that do not include LGBTQ scientists. Some institutions do not even consider LGBTQ a minority.
Another problem is that some gay scientists fear prejudice from their peers during hiring and other selection processes, since not all scientists have the same socially progressive mentality. This seems to be a major reason why scientists don’t come out of the closet. We can’t deny the advances of the LGBTQ cause, but prejudice is still out there.
What should we do as LGBTQ advocates after Obergefell v. Hodges? First of all, make sure the law is being followed. If you are in an institution in a state that didn’t issue same- sex marriage benefits before June 26, check whether it changed its policies regarding same- sex spouses. Another important action is to look for diversity employment statements. Does your institution make clear that there is no official bias based on sexual orientation and identity?
A Complex Diversity Puzzle
LGBTQ is a minority, invisible and present, but still a minority. Therefore we are a piece of the complex diversity puzzle. And like members of all minorities, LGBTQ individuals need institutional protection and guidance to avoid discrimination. The ASCB is doing its part as a scientific society that advocates a diverse workforce. Last year, a LGBTQ diversity taskforce was approved by Council, and it will be implemented soon. Also, the LGBTQ Diversity Session at last year’s Annual Meeting was a success with a great blend of cell biology and career advice. This year’s speaker will be Matthew Welch, Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. So please join us in San Diego for this event!
Minorities are a very important part of our society. For successful inclusion, we need to establish equality in law and policy, showcase examples of professional/personal success, and provide guidance. It is always good to see that we are heading in the right direction, and June 26 was a great day. We are moving forward in science and in society.