Excerpts from The Scientist (3/2/1992), Gay and Lesbian Scientists Seek Workplace Equality by Barbara Spector.
Last September, the business world focused its attention on Lotus Development Corp. when it became the first large firm to offer health and other benefits to the "spousal equivalents" of its gay and lesbian employees. "The intent is to make us the employer of choice," says Russ Campanello, vice president of human resources at the Cambridge, Mass., software company.
In altering its benefits policy to treat gay couples equally with married heterosexuals, Lotus joined a handful of smaller companies and nonprofit organizations-- fewer than a dozen-- that have already done so, plus a few municipalities.
While most high-tech companies have not yet demonstrated a readiness to grant benefits to gay partners, many have instituted other measures to make homosexuals feel more welcome in the workplace. Numerous institutions, including at least 145 universities, have written policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. And at several firms-- such as Digital Equipment Corp. of Maynard, Mass., and the Rand Corp. of Santa Monica, Calif.-- gay and lesbian support groups meet on company premises and sponsor company-wide diversity-education programs.
But life for gay scientists in professional careers or in graduate school is not uniformly a utopian one. Few scientific societies have established caucuses or committees dealing with the concerns of gays in their respective fields, although such groups are now commonplace in the social sciences and humanities. Some researchers contend that a bias against projects focusing on gay-related issues exists among peer reviewers, journal publishers, and funding agencies. And some scientific employers remain reluctant to formalize policies of nondiscrimination against gays, lesbians, or bisexuals. Consequently, thousands of gay scientists throughout the U.S. have not disclosed their sexual orientation to their bosses or faculty advisors for fear of reprisals.
Isolated cases of bias notwithstanding, gay scientists are very much a presence in the workplace, even though they may be trying hard to keep themselves invisible. Because so many of them are convinced of the necessity of remaining closeted, it is difficulty to calculate exactly how many of them there are. But last November, Overlooked Opinions, a Chicago research firm, released a study of 8,031 gay men and lesbians, with study subjects chosen to be demographically representative of the homosexual population nationwide. From the survey results, the firm predicts that in a group of 1,000 U.S. gays and lesbians, 2 would be chemists, 35 would be computer scientists, 9 would ientify themselves as "scientists" or "researchers," 6 would be research assistants, and 9 would be lab technicians.