Osaka Prefecture University

OPU Faculty Member Co-authors First-ever Major Study on LGBT+ Bias Issues in Physics

LastUpDate: March 30, 2022

A new study reveals that LGBT+ physicists experience systemic issues, including harassment, which makes them more likely to abandon their physics studies or leave their job.

LGBT+ is a shorthand term for lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer and other sexual and gender-nonconforming minorities.

An Osaka Prefecture University assistant professor, Savannah Garmon, is a co-author on the study, which includes the first large-scale survey of LGBT+ physicists about their experiences in the field. That survey indicates that LGBT+ physicists experience or observe exclusionary behavior at concerning rates, and that women and gender non-conforming people are particularly vulnerable.

Dr. Garmon explained the basic problem by saying, “If a straight person is talking about their relationship with their partner at work or in the university, then a lesbian or gay person might face an uncomfortable choice. Do they respond by talking about their own relationship, which might reveal their sexuality and hence make them vulnerable to discrimination, or do they avoid the subject, which can be awkward or even alienating.”

However, the issues involved can be even more complex than this.

“A butch lesbian woman or a transgender person may be perceived as gender nonconforming no matter what they choose to reveal about themselves, and hence might be at risk of being the target of harassment no matter what,” Dr. Garmon explained.

Feeling unsafe in one’s workplace can lead some people to decide physics isn’t a good choice for them, which results in talent being lost. And even in the case that someone stays, it can create a distraction from work or lead to other problems.

The observation that gender plays such an important role is also consistent with the concept of intersectionality, which is based on the observation that people who experience marginalization along multiple axes often have to deal with compounding issues related to exclusion.

“A lesbian or transgender woman might experience homophobia or transphobia even in a support group for women in physics. This may make her feel like she has nowhere to turn.” Dr. Garmon said. “This also has impact for racial minorities in physics.”

Indeed, the survey, which was primarily taken among physicists in the US, revealed that non-white physicists were less likely to be out as LGBT+ community members than their white peers.

“This indicates that it is important to consider intersectionality when discussing these issues,” Dr. Garmon said. “Ultimately, the best answer is that every member of the physics community should feel safe to bring their full selves forward at work or at the university.”

In response to a question on a recent membership survey from the American Physical Society, 15% of early-career scientists identified as LGBT+ community members, which emphasizes the importance of the issue.

Paper information

JOURNAL : Physical Review Physics Education Research
ARTICLE TITLE: LGBT+ Physicists: Harassment, Persistence, and Uneven Support
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.18.010124
The lead authors: Ramón Barthelemy (University of Utah), Tim Atherton (Tufts University)

Funding Information

The American Physical Society

Contribution to SDGs

SDG 5 English

5: Gender equality


Department of Physical Science, Graduate School of Science, Osaka Prefecture University
Dr. Savannah Garmon

E-mail sgarmon[at] *Please change [at] to @.