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Tina Casey headshot

Transgender Rights in STEM Take on New Meaning in Global Climate Crisis

By Tina Casey

The latest IPCC report on climate change is a frightening one, but it also indicates there is still time for an all-hands-on-deck effort to manage the global climate crisis. That effort must include some of the very corporations that have contributed to the global carbon overload.

To be effective, corporations must also unlock all the talent and innovation at their command. Those who have taken the lead on LGBTQ+ rights in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields have a head start, but some need to adjust their political giving to push back against obstructive state and federal legislators.

Signs of improvement in STEM and LGBTQ+ rights

The long-buried scientific achievements of women and people of color have finally come to the fore in recent years, and leading corporations have begun to nurture a more diverse workforce by supporting inclusive STEM programs for young students.

Though much work remains to be done, the STEM diversity hiring movement has also touched the LGBTQ+ community, including transgender scientists.

One significant sign of change occurred last month, when all 17 national laboratories under the U.S. Department of Energy joined with other key scientific gatekeepers in a global reach in a commitment to honor name changes for research papers authored by transgender scientists.

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The effort was coordinated by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which explained that “this agreement will allow researchers who wish to change their names to more easily claim work from all stages of their careers…it specifically addresses the administrative and emotional difficulties some transgender researchers have experienced when requesting name changes associated with past academic work.”

We are supporting our colleagues on an important issue that is often taken for granted — allowing them to take full credit for their academic achievements with their name,” added Joerg Heber, Research Integrity Officer, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The first-of-its-kind publishing initiative lifts a significant burden from individual researchers, who previously had to approach their publishers on a piecemeal basis while facing the risk of reprisal in their professional life.

A global effort on transgender rights

Berkeley Lab also noted that several publishers have already begun to streamline their processes, including the U.K.’s Royal Society of Chemistry. The results indicate that a deep reservoir of transgender achievement has lain unrecognized for years.

“Since we updated our own author name change policy in December 2020 we have had requests for name changes on dozens of articles in our journals,” explained Nicola Nugent of the RSC. “It truly takes a collaborative effort to achieve positive change on inclusion and diversity in scholarly publishing – something we have seen through our work with 42 publishers in our Joint Commitment on Inclusion and Diversity in Publishing.”

In addition to the National Laboratories and the RSC, the transgender commitment includes the American Chemistry Society and several other leading U.S. scientific associations, as well as Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley and other research publishers with a global footprint.

Diversity hiring claims the spotlight

The new initiative also ripples onto the reputation of corporations that sponsor scientific research. Toyota, for example, has an excellent record on transgender rights and other LGBTQ+ issues in the U.S., where it provides the financial muscle for the Toyota Research Institute at Berkeley Lab, which is the professional home of transgender scientist Amalie Trewartha.

Trewatha explains that transgender name obstacles in publishing serve to suppress innovation and prevent transgender scientists from advancing their professional reputation.

“As a trans scientist, having publications under my birth name causes me to have mixed feelings about past work of which Im otherwise proud,” Trewartha explained. I am faced with the dilemma of either hiding certain parts of it, or outing myself.”

Dow steps up on LGBTQ+ rights

Jim Fitterling, Chairman and CEO of Dow, (a spinoff from what was briefly DowDupont) underscored the impact of supporting LGBTQ+ rights in STEM fields last June, in an interview published by the nonprofit organization Catalyst.

Fitterling came out as gay in 2014 when he was Dow’s Vice Chairman of Business Operations. Surviving Stage 4 cancer provided him with a deep appreciation for obstacles that fear can place in professional and personal growth.

“Thats why, when I became CEO of Dow in 2018, we made our ambition to become the most innovative, customer-centric, inclusive, and sustainable materials science company in the world. A big part of delivering on a goal like that is believing you can do it - just like believing life will be better after coming out, or you can beat cancer. Fear isnt going to help, and it may actually accelerate defeat,” he explained.

The time for next-level action is now

Internal corporate policy is a necessary, but far from sufficient, step for ensuring progress on LGBTQ+ rights.

For example, Toyota touched off a firestorm of criticism earlier this year, after investigative journalist Judd Legum turned the media spotlight on the company’s many donations to members of Congress who voted in support of former President Trump’s attempt to remain in office after losing his seat in the 2020 presidential election.

Those donations put Toyota on the side of a president who aggressively supported white supremacists and racists while promoting transphobia, and the impact of his tenure continues to ripple out in the form of a torrent of state-level anti-transgender legislation.

Dow also has some work to do in order to shake off the dust of the Trump administration. The company’s support for sustainable chemistry in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suffered a reputational blow after 2016, when former CEO Andrew Liveris took the seat of Chairman of Trump’s newly formed Manufacturing Council.

Aside from taking steps to dismantle EPA, Trump undercut Dow’s corporate diversity and inclusion efforts in 2017, when he lauded white supremacists after a deadly incident in Charlottesville, North Carolina.

Within days, Merck, Intel and Under Armour all withdrew from the Manufacturing Council. Dow and all the others followed shortly thereafter, having decided to disband the organization.

“Every member of the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative condemns racism and bigotry, and there cannot be moral ambiguity around the driving forces of the events in Charlottesville," Liveris explained. “However… in the current environment it was no longer possible to conduct productive discussions under the auspices of the Initiative."

Liveris retired in 2018, but the after-effects of the Trump administration still linger.

Earlier this year, Legum noted that Dow was among those pledging to suspend donations to members of Congress who failed to certify the 2020 Electoral College vote.

That stance is consistent with Dow’s solid reputation on LGBTQ+ rights. However, Trump’s influence continues to spin out across the country in the form of new voter suppression legislation as well as anti-transgender legislation, both of which intersect with political obstruction on climate action at both the state and federal level.

In the face of the looming climate crisis, companies like Toyota and Dow have all the more reason to recharge their corporate human rights policies with a concerted effort to leverage their financial muscle and push back against legislators who seek to turn back the clock on LGBTQ+ rights.

Image credit: Science in HD/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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