Today is the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which are now known as the beginning of a new age of LGBT+ activism around the world. On June 28, 1970, the first gay pride parades took place, which have now become an international tradition in the month of June — known as “Pride month”. In this post, to honor the spirit of this month, I want to highlight some LGBT+ mathematicians, and celebrate their lives, accomplishments, and contributions. As an ally, I don’t feel like I can speak for this group, but I have selected a few blogs and interviews which caught my attention this past year as being particularly awesome. This way, you get to hear from super cool LGBT+ mathematicians, in their own words.
An intrepid mathematician: This month, Anthony Bonato, a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, published a very personal piece about his experience being a gay mathematician on his blog. I particularly liked the way he wrote about his experience chronologically, as he takes us from being a young gay man in rural Ontario up to being full professor at an LGBT friendly school. I know, spoiler alert! It seems to have a happy ending. More spoilers, his last two paragraphs:
“As a gay person, I hope one day the LGBT community will be fully accepted in academia and society, and we can learn not to self-edit ourselves so much. I want my mathematical research and teaching to be judged on its own merit. We don’t have to agree or be the same, nor should that be the goal.
I just want a shot at happiness and a successful career like everyone else.”
The mad professah, your favorite new blogger: Ron Buckmire started his awesome blog, The Mad Professah Lectures, in 2005 while he was teaching at Occidental College. Buckmire is now the director of NSF’s S-STEM program, a program housed in the Division of Undergraduate Education focused on increasing success of “low-income academically talented students.” Where to start with this blog? First of all, from what I just said, you can imagine that Buckmire has a lot to say about STEM education and national policy. But maybe I should quote fictional gay icon Stefon, and say this blog has everything: LGBT+ activism and news, tennis recaps, book reviews, movie reviews, food reviews, Game of Thrones news, a series called “celebrity Friday”, a series called “Godless Wednesdays”, and last but not least a series called “Eye Candy” featuring unnaturally good looking men. He updates this blog frequently, and it is particularly refreshing that all parts of his identity are clear and open in the blog: from his love of tennis to his appreciation for unnaturally good looking men, from his professional to his personal identities. This is the best example of how you can embrace all parts of yourself, and be unapologetic and awesome while doing so.
Presidential Pride: As AMS readers, you may be aware that Robert Bryant was the 63rd president of the society, serving from 2015-2016. He has made many mathematical contributions in the field of differential geometry, has served as director of MSRI, and is a Fellow of the AMS and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, some of the highest honors a mathematician can receive. Bryant is also an openly gay man, and has been very active in creating supportive and welcoming environments for all mathematicians. As far as I know, Bryant is the first openly gay president of the AMS.
Says Bryant in an interview with Allyn Jackson for the AMS Notices: “While things have improved dramatically in the past thirty-five years, we ought to keep in mind that it’s still a big step for many people with nontraditional identities to be open about their personal lives in a professional setting. That’s one reason it’s so important that the AMS and MAA have statements reminding us all to continue to think about how we can provide supportive, safe, and welcoming environments for the increasingly diverse world of mathematicians of all kinds.”
For a more detailed look into Bryant’s life and approach to mathematics, I recommend reading this wonderful interview in full, which was published in the Notices during Pride month last year.
Being trans is beautiful: This March, Evelyn Lamb published a moving and inspiring interview with our mutual friend (and awesome person) Autumn Kent, a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin. I have known Autumn for a long time, before and after her coming out as a trans woman. In particular, I met her in graduate school, a time she describes as personally very difficult for her. Knowing that, this particular passage really stuck with me:
“The thing I think most people don’t see is the constant underlying dread, anxiety, stress, and anguish that a lot of us are carrying around. A lot of the time I am walking to and from my daily tasks, my inner voice hoarse from screaming. After the election I would be out and hear people making small talk about the sunshine and I’d want to tear out my hair. When I am doing bureaucratic tasks at work, I am carrying all of my anguish. When I am teaching and getting a laugh from my class I am carrying my anguish. When I am writing that email. When I am in the elevator or at the water fountain. When you ask how it’s going I am frozen. I am saturated with grief.”
In terms of advice, she has this to say:
“Listen to us. All marginalized people. Amplify our voices and spread our stories.
Being trans is hard. Our culture treats us like we are less than human. It is hard. And I’m trans but I am also a middle class white woman. Go listen to women of color. Listen to all they endure. And then go listen to trans women of color. Think about the intersection of these marginalized classes.
If someone misgenders a trans person, correct them casually and politely. I am misgendered a lot and correcting people can be taxing. Help is appreciated.
If you see discrimination call it out. Go to these health care meetings for us. Go to these town halls for us. Demand equitable treatment. Tell your universities to treat us right. To let us use the bathroom and to give us the care we need. Tell the grade schools in your town to respect trans kids and to believe them when they say who they are. Go to school board meetings and shout. Stand with us. Stand for us. Make a ruckus. Shout!”
So yes, let’s shout!
To read the full Q&A (which you should totally do right now), go here.
Finally, in case you’re interested in connecting with the world of LGBT+ mathematicians and allies, you should look at joining Spectra, the only organization, as far as I know, of this type. The board boasts a group of extremely talented and recognizable mathematicians — among them Ron Buckmire, yes, the mad professah himself, and Moon Duchin, who has garnered a lot of media attention recently for her groundbreaking work on the mathematics of gerrymandering. Since their recent creation (officially in 2015, although subsets of LGBT+ mathematicians have been very active for a long time), Spectra has hosted panels and receptions for LGBT+ mathematicians and their allies at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (there are both on-site and off-site receptions, for people wanting some distance between their personal and professional identities). They also host an email list, which serves as a network and place for important announcements. I’m excited to see how this organization grows and evolves, and I also want to plug an upcoming guest blog post by two members of Spectra (in late July). We will plug the receptions and panels again when we get closer to the JMM.
Finally, I want to invite all of you to share any particular stories, blog posts, articles, anecdotes, information about any other organizations you deem appropriate, and even pictures of parades. And Happy Pride!!!!!
I also enjoyed several of these blogs over that last year, and having discussions with my queer peers about mathematics! I am genuinely curious what motivated your statement, “As an ally, I don’t feel like I can speak for this group.” As a gay man often when I hear this statement from allies I see it as a gaurd against other people mistaking the person as queer. I dont think this is always the intent, but imagine saying as a white person I don’t feel like I can speak for Latinas…that statement would seem obvious. Not trying to be critical, I really appreciated your post, this is just something I have wrestled with.
That is a good question. I guess it was mainly a rhetorical choice, since I’m writing a blog post that is essentially a reading list of what other people have written, so it seemed like a natural way to introduce that motivation. However, I do want to listen to you and learn, so do you have a any tips on how to do this without coming off as distancing myself from queerness? Perhaps it would have been better to say “As an ally, instead of writing my own post about Pride I thought I would give LGBT+ mathematicians the place to speak on this particular blog post.” I really appreciate your taking the time to comment, and I apologize for the impact of that sentence (regardless of my intent).
Thanks for the response, and no need to apologize. I was just putting it out there and was curious both from you and others their reaction. I am really inspired that you are living equity in action by educating yourself about different people’s experiences! Thank you.