It was really difficult to decide what talks to go to Thursday afternoon, so much was happening at once! But I’m really glad I ended up going to the MAA Panel on Out in Mathematics. The panel focused on issues that LGBTQ mathematicians can face when dealing with students, administrators, colleagues, and potential employers. Audience members shared their own stories and difficulties. Despite whatever challenges we may face after returning home, it was moving to be together in a safe, supportive space where people could share and work through some of those challenges.
It was upsetting (though sadly not that surprising) to hear about some of the harassment and discrimination that continues today. Though discomforting, sometimes those are the most productive and important feelings one can have. As a cis man in Massachusetts who is often assumed to be straight, it can be too easy for me to become complacent.
The panel was organized by the cleverly named Spectra which has been meeting for the better part of three decades. The 1995 JMM had been schedule to be in Denver, but in late 1992 Colorado passed a constitutional amendment that banned local anti-discrimination laws. The MAA and the AMS quickly moved to change the venue to San Francisco, so that the meeting would be something everyone could feel safe attending. Out of this a group of mathematicians (now Spectra) started organizing panels, on-site receptions, and off-site receptions at JMM meetings.
I always appreciate learning about histories like this, because I appreciate the work done by those who have come before, and because seeing how far we’ve come makes me feel a little bit better about how far I see we still need to go.