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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.

Epilogue

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.

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