Today, 10 June 2013, is the 10th anniversary of the decision by the Court of Appeal for Ontario to allow same-sex marriage in Halpern v. Canada (Attorney General), and also Pride Week. As someone who’s benefited directly from this ruling, I think it merits some reflection. And as an academic, I often find myself explaining to straight colleagues why my career choices are so heavily influenced by the fact that I have a husband, not a wife.
As a bit of background, same-sex marriage rolled out gradually among Canada’s provinces between 2003 and 2005, when the federal government passed bill C-38 on 20 July 2005, and it’s extremely unlikely to be overturned by any government or court. Canada’s been seen as a sort of haven for progressive LGBT rights, most having been read into Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Consequently, I can’t be discriminated against in employment, benefits, housing, health care, and more. This has fostered a culture of openness, and I’ve been out to all of my academic supervisors, fellow grad students, and anyone who’s asked (though I still get the occasional “So what does your wife do?” when folks notice my wedding ring. Rather than embarrass me, it tends to embarrass them).
For comparison, my queer colleagues in the US are subject to a bewildering array of homophobic legislation that varies state by state. In 30/50 states, same-sex marriage has been enshrined in the state constitution. I think it’s worth taking some time to think about what that means. The constitution, what defines an organization, and how it operates, explicitly prohibits two consenting adults who love each other from having that relationships recognized by the state. Many states allow discrimination in employment (though local authorities and specific companies may have their own non-discrimination ordinances or policies). There are still some places where housing can be refused to LGBT individuals or families (though, thankfully, this number is shrinking).
Why all this exposition on the sad state of affairs south of the 49th parallel? There are about 100 degree-granting institutions in Canada (or 1/360,000 people), while the US has 4495 (or 1/70,000 people). For Canada to have the same per-capita number of universities, we’d need another 400 or so. True, some of those US schools are staunchly religious schools where I wouldn’t even consider working (or even be allowed to work!), and some are often termed “Central Podunk State College”, meaning a general low quality school where no one wants to live, but that doesn’t change the overall picture.
Terry at Small Pond Science (and the subsequent comments) summed up the job situation in the US nicely, I think. I’d be equally happy (perhaps even more so) at a teaching-focused university (often termed a “liberal arts college”), a class of post-secondary institution that is generally lacking in Canada (by my count, there are < 10, most on the east coast, and with little faculty turnover or new hires).
A natural idea for many early-career researchers and grad students (and entertainers) is to go to the US for a degree or a postdoc, or even a first job, even if they eventually want to end up back in Canada. “The cultures can’t be that different”, I imagine them thinking. For my family and I, that’s just not an option.
The most obvious example is in immigration. Though I’m happily married here in Canada, my husband and I would have to immigrate as two individuals rather than as a couple. This means, among other things, that we both need job offers in hand, and that our respective salaries have to be sufficient to support us individually. A common solution to the “two body problem” in academia, especially if there’s a non-academic partner/spouse who is flexible in their work, is to move according to the academic in the family, and their spouse will find a job in the new city when they arrive. That’s obviously not an option for same-sex couples immigrating to the US.
There’s also the general climate towards the LGBTQ community. Humboldt University recently aggregated racist and homophobic tweets and mapped them to the county level (normalized for the total number of tweets per county). You can zoom in and explore this map, and see that there are some places I’d probably not care to live in (well, that combined with the lack of marriage recognition, partner benefits, and full protection under the law).
But I don’t want to beat up on the US too harshly. A few years ago, we had a plenary speaker come in from southern California, who was a lesbian. She found the climate (in a non-weather sense) generally favourable (if not indifferent), and enjoyed her position, and the environment in which she lived. There’s marriage equality in 14 states now, and that number will only grow.
While I generally agreed with Terry’s advice to apply to many and sundry places, at least for now, the US remains off my books. That was a decision we made as a family a few years ago before I started the academic job-hunt, and we’ve stuck to it. Some times it’s been very hard – when I see a position for which I’d be a great fit in a location I could see myself living, for example. But generally I don’t follow the US job market because I know that it’s not something I’m entertaining.
Yes, the tides in the US are changing, but I’m not willing to give up the rights I have now (which, I think many people will agree, are fairly fundamental). I expect that, in my lifetime, the LGBTQ (yes, including T) community in the US will be equal in the eyes of the state (if not all its inhabitants), but until that happens, I’ll just pop down for a visit now and then.
One of the interesting side effects of the LGBTQ struggle in the US has been the formation of organizations like the National Organization for Gay and Lesbian Science and Technology Professionals (NOGLSTP, recent Twitter adopters). They frequently appear at large scientific meetings like the AAAS or AGU. There’s no Canadian equivalent (and many have argued that our national LGBTQ organization, Egale Canada, has vanished since the 2005 marriage decision (though they continue to do good work, especially with anti-gay bullying in schools). But through The Lab and Field, I’ve been able to connect to a couple of other LGBTQ academics, and I’m sure there are more. There’s even a study of LGBTQ folks in STEM professions that I encourage you to go and fill out, even if you’re not in the US (it appears US-centric, but study co-lead Jeremy Yoder gave me the go-ahead).
LGBTQ academics, even in Canada, have different challenges from our straight colleagues, and it’s important to recognize these, and hopefully mentor our fellow queer graduate students, postdocs, and early-career researchers (something I wish I had received as a student, and would still benefit from now as a postdoc).
So in the absence of a formal Canadian group for LGBTQ scientists (and heck, other disciplines, too), we have to find each other through other channels. Hopefully this post will foster a few more connections.
If anyone wants a 6-minute primer on the last 30ish years of gay rights in the US, I highly recommend checking out the extended trailer for “Second Class Citizen”, a film project by Ryan James Yezak. Heck, just watch it.
While the context is American, the issues aren’t. Read about Jamie Hubley from Ottawa, or the Pots and Hands restaurant in Morris, Manitoba.
And, since I know that some folks don’t want to out themselves on the interwebs, if you’d still like to comment, send me an e-mail, and I can post it for you.
wow very interesting. However why would anyone ever want to live in the US. I couldn’t think of anywhere worse. I am sure there are plenty of other fantastic places to do ecology work. For me personally, I have never really thought of myself as a gay academic, and never thought being gay as any kind of an obstacle. Here in Australia things are progressing slowly, despite a very large majority of the population supporting marriage equality, we still don’t have gay marriage as the right wing conservatives are desperately trying to hold back change. Our New Zealand cousins being so much more in the 21st century have already legislated for same sex marriage and then sang a Maori love song in the parliament when the legislation passed. Now that’s a country where you want to do research.
Alex Bond said:
There are lots of neat places to do the fieldwork, but the hiring situation is generally poor in Canada (and worse in Australia from what I hear from colleagues). There simply are more jobs per capita in the US. And jobs that I would have a chance of interviewing for / being offered. But to my straight colleagues, it’s no big deal to jump down and do a postdoc in Massachusetts or California.
Sarah Boon said:
Well even for your straight colleagues it’s a big deal to move to the States for work. 🙂
I interviewed for a couple of TT positions there – one in MT and the other in AK. While I loved the MT landscape (Bozeman, you can’t go wrong!), the culture just didn’t feel ‘right’ to me. I can’t pin a rational explanation on it, but for whatever reason I feel more at home in Canada than the US.
So after the MT interview, I stopped looking for jobs in the US.
There’s a tendency to think that anyone can live anywhere. Thing is, some people can while others of us – maybe the geographers? 🙂 – are more sensitive to place. I don’t think either is bad, just as long as you recognize & work with rather than against it.
Alex Bond said:
That’s a great point, as I think many people underestimate the cultural differences. My reason just happens to be much more easily definable! 🙂
Terry McGlynn said:
I couldn’t think of anywhere worse.
I hope that’s intentional hyperbole rather than ignorance. There are nations where you get executed for being gay.
Thanks for the shout-out, Alex. Please be aware that there is (finally) a majority of us working for equality, and a serious number of us who have been fighting for years for equality as a civil rights issue. Our works isn’t done yet, but progress has been relatively rapid, and when the Supreme Court announced the results of the Prop 8 trial this summer, it might even be faster.
not ignorance. just tongue in cheek. I have been to the US and there are a lot of very nice people and some very nice places. Good work re civil rights I hope it gets better.
Alex Bond said:
Yes, I was being hyperbolic. That’s another facet that I didn’t discuss that’s particular to those of us that do international field work or go to international conferences – how safe is the country I’m visiting?
And I know things in the US are improving. I spent 4 summers doing field work in Alaska (though I could never see Russia from my tent). Marriage equality in Minnesota, and hopeful rumblings in Illinois and Michigan are just the latest in a recent string of good news.
I suppose you have to go where the work is, and the US is a very big fish pond. When confronted by a brick wall go over, under or around. No problems only opportunities. I will be confronting the job puzzle soon once I complete my PhD but will cross that bridge when I come to it. I will just have to make my own position at my institution (okay I’m dreaming). Best of luck for your future. You going to INTECOL in London?
Alex Bond said:
There’s lots of advice out there for those looking to break into academia. My experience is that luck is 80% of it. It’s a tough slog (far tougher than I imagined); good luck!
I won’t be at INTECOL, but will hopefully be at IsoEcol 2014 in Perth.
Might catch you in Perth then. best wishes
A few thoughts, in no particular order. Had to take some time to let my thoughts percolate, and meander back to the city from field work in the Qu’Appelle valley:
1. I couldn’t agree more with your mention of reference to mentorship of fellow queer scientists. I knew of no other queer scientists in my experience as an under/graduate student. Not one. I am occasionally surprised to meet queer undergraduate students in my classes (rare), and have more than once pondered what the appropriate form of mentorship might be. Most often, being out, professional and science-obsessed seems to be the best form of passive mentorship possible…. In other words, moving forward and living my life. What sort of mentorship would you have found meaningful along your journey? What sort of mentorship would you
2. I have never seriously considered an academic career in the US, for a number of the same reasons you have enumerated. Not the least of which: I cannot immigrate as a part of a same-gender couple, our legal Canadian marriage notwithstanding. On the other hand, the US is the home of many leading queer advocates and success stories. The balance appears to lie somewhere on campuses in-between: neither the rainbow-saturated San Francisco, CA nor the stultifying-pentecost of Tulsa, OK.
3. I was fascinated by this comment: “I often find myself explaining to straight colleagues why my career choices are so heavily influenced by the fact that I have a husband, not a wife”. I have two reactions to this comment: (a) really? I am amazed by the ongoing need for explanation, and on the other hand, (b) ah, yes, too familiar. Frankly, I am tired of correcting the assumptions and/or ignorance of other folks. From my perspective, that is exasperatingly old news. Maybe I’ll just switch it up, and start inserting non sequitur assumptions back into these conversations as a self-amusing response, ie: “How is your Rastafarianism working out?” or “Your boredom is neither refreshing nor interesting”. I’m having trouble thinking up other, amusing alternatives. But just think of all the Ralph-Wiggum-esque possibilities: “Do alligators alligate?” and “I caught a white apple!”.
4. You did not mention the presence, or role, of homophobia. I know this isn’t an oversight; it’s important not to lend more attention to all the crap floating around out there. On the other hand, I’m sure it has played a role in your experience. I’d be curious to laugh/learn/lament all the various forms in which it appears.
5. I have a hobby interest in the presence of queers in science, and their role(s) in the history of science. Names that float to mind include Alan Turing, Neil Divine, Margaret Mead, and others. I wonder, idly, how the queer experience might modify (or modulate?) the scientific method… or not. It might be irrelevant. Anyway, my curiosity remains.
(small) editorial comment: I don’t think of a marriage as an ‘organization’. But that’s just a word. 🙂
Much more to enjoy over laughter!
Alex Bond said:
I knew no out faculty in udnergrad or grad school, but I wonder how much of this was keeping personal lives private? Sure, I knew some of my profs in udnergrad were married, and others weren’t (and this was all pre-same-sex marriage), but at the time, I didn’t realize how beneficial mentorship (of any kind) could be. As for what kind of mentorship to provide, I’m equally flummoxed. I figure I’ve had a handful of LGB (no T yet) students in my labs, but this was in a scenario where 1-on-1 interaction was fairly minimal.
I don’t know what sort of mentorship I would have found useful. I think that seeing other out faculty, postdocs, and grad students, especially in my department, would have been a boost. Especially when it comes to field work where one could be in a small isolated camp for 4-12 weeks.
Part of why I wrote the post was to drum some folks out of the woodwork here in Canada so that there was a network of colleagues and mentors that we could talk with about the joys and sorrows of life as an LGBT scientist.
As for homophobia, I’ve encountered a fair amount of heterocentrism (“What does your wife do?” etc). But my comment about “the fact I have a husband, not a wife” was more meant as “the fact that I’m gay, not straight” plays a big role in my job search strategies (not that they necessarily assume I’m straight, but don’t think about what difference exists). And I was refering to the organization in whose constitution marriage is defined.
You should check out Joan Roughgarden, probably the most well-known LGBT ecologist. I *do* think the queer mentality influences our science. One of my very first posts here discussed the idea that the question should influence the field site, not the other way around. But if the ideal system to test Hypothesis A is in Jamaican mangroves, I’d have to take a pass. Maybe this is why I’ve generally avoided tropical work? (well, that and my Scottish genes have informed me that I’m far better suited to the temperate/polar environment).
Thanks for the shout-out to the QueerSTEM study! Also: yay, Minnesota!
So, yeah— I have a number Canadian friends that’ve struggled with the job supply north of the border. But it really makes a difference when you’re when you’re thinking about it from a queer perspective.
I recently had someone (someone straight) suggest to me that I should look into a job lead in a state with a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and that I should basically regard it as an opportunity for evangelism, so to speak. Which flabbergasted me, but I was too weirded out to say what I should’ve, which was, fuck that shit—would you move to a place where you were legally barred from marriage, given any choice at all?
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