Florida Museum and UF recognize faculty, educate community with "LGBTQ+ in STEM" panel

Published: Oct. 20, 2019 at 2:13 AM EDT
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As Gay Pride Week in Gainesville began to come to a close, The Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida took time to acknowledge their LGBTQ+ faculty members, their experiences, and the fields that they work so hard in.

On Saturday, October 19th, the museum hosted the "LGBTQ+ in STEM" panel and dedicated time to LGBTQ+ individuals working in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

The panel aimed to not only share these peoples' experiences as LGBTQ+ individuals but also teach others; panelists shared information on organisms such as penguins, bearded dragons, and spotted hyenas that exhibit LGBTQ+ traits as well as teaching attendees how to be better allies to the community.

Attendees were also invited to create buttons with their preferred pronouns or to mark their status as an ally, take a "behind-the-scenes" tour of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, or bring their children over to a coloring station.

Kelsey Lewis, one of the many panelists and a PhD candidate at the University of Florida's Departments of Biology and Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, spoke with TV20 about why she was happy to be a part of the panel and why events like the panel are needed.

"I think events like this are really important because...I mean, obviously visibility matters," Lewis explained. "We didn't have a lot of visibility, especially queer people in science. And I think that that's why even though it can be hard and scary to be really authentic in public with our personal lives, I think it's important for us to put in that work. So I'm happy to be someone who puts that work in."

During the Q&A section of the panel, several attendees asked questions pertaining to different ways to educate those unfamiliar with the LGBTQ+ community and its history as well as how to help those within the community.

Mary Alford, the principal engineer with

, shared her hopes for public discussions like this to become more common place.

"One of the problems with events like this is that it tends to be 'preaching to the choir,'" Alford said. "So, this being part of Gay Pride Week here in Gainesville, it tends to attract mostly people that are here celebrating Gay Pride. We need to have these types of events incorporated into other community forums and community events."

"It should be a part of all the discussions we're having," Alford continued. "If we want to make everyone in the community feel comfortable, it should be one of the boxes that we check; 'have we made this part of the discussion?'"

Lewis, who also hosts the Feminist Science Reading Group on a monthly basis, has a list of related reading materials for those interested in learning more about topics covered during the event; to learn more about the reading group and to access the reading list,