The early days
Like many LGBT advocacy organizations, NOGLSTP was created at the intersection of grass-roots equal rights activism and the need to network socially with colleagues of like-mind. Inspired by Triangle Area Gay Scientists (established 1977) and Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Scientists (established 1979), the original organizing efforts for a nationwide association of gay and lesbian scientists planted its seeds at the January 1980 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Francisco. At that meeting, a special session was held to discuss problems arising from homophobia in the scientific workplace. Issues were raised that were of concern to all scientists, and the National Organization of Lesbian and Gay Scientists (NOLGS) was created as a grassroots network to organize events and meetings to address those issues.
In those days, most gay people were closeted for fear of stigmatization and social estrangement, which meant that considerable energy that could be spent on scientific creativity and productivity was spent on hiding the truth. Foreign homosexuals were not allowed to enter the U.S. That meant foreign LGBT scientists could not attend scientific meetings in the U.S. Homosexuals were denied security clearances by some departments of the U.S. government. As such, LGBT scientists and engineers were not eligible to work for these agencies. In the absence of visibility, myths about homosexuals persisted. For example, medical students were not taught about LGBT healthcare needs, human biology courses did not include accurate information about homosexuality, and science historians ignored or misinterpreted the role of homosexuality in the lives and accomplishments of the some of the world’s greatest scientists. Very little funded research about homosexuality existed — either due to disinterest on the part of granting agencies or due to researchers’ fears about seeking such funding. This is the climate that the NOLGS organizers sought to expose and address.
NOGLSTP grew out of the informal NOLGS network and was formalized as an organization in August 1983 with a membership structure, a board of directors, and a regular newsletter. “Technical Professionals” was appended to the organization name to indicate a welcoming of engineers, mathematicians, educators, clinicians, and all people who earned a living or were interested in science and technology. Inclusion of “bi” and “trans” were not yet in the naming nomenclature of organizations at the time, although all people were welcomed regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation. By this time, many regional groups for LGBT scientists existed throughout the United States. Some of the groups included: Triangle Area Gay Scientists; Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Scientists; The Humboldt Society; Bay Area Gay and Lesbian Engineers and Scientists; High Tech Gays; Houston Area Gay and Lesbian Scientists; Dallas Area Gay and Lesbian Engineers and Scientists; Gay Association of Technicians, Engineers, and Scientists; Gay and Lesbian Orange County Engineers and Scientists; Gaytek; Natural History Group; New Orleans Area Gay and Lesbian Engineers and Scientists; UFLAGS; and Washington Area Gay and Lesbian Scientists. The organizers envisioned NOGLSTP serving as a unifying entity for the regional groups as well as a professional society for individuals. For a short time, many of the regional groups affiliated with NOGLSTP in some way but, over the long run, most of the groups went their own way and ultimately evaporated due to leadership attrition. Of these original regional groups, only Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Scientists is currently a formal NOGLSTP affiliate. Triangle Area Gay Scientists (Chapel Hill, NC), the Humboldt Society (Philadelphia, PA), and the Natural History Group (New York, NY) still thrive thanks to dedicated long-term leadership but are not NOGLSTP affiliates.
NOGLSTP’s nascent years focused on identifying and opposing homophobia in the scientific and technical workplace. In the mid-1980s, NOGLSTP received grants from the Chicago Resource Center to produce and distribute the educational pamphlets, “Who are the Gay and Lesbian Scientists?” (about queer scientists of historical note), “Barriers to Achievement” (about employment discrimination), “Measuring the Gay and Lesbian Population” (about LGBT population demographics), “Security Clearances: Your Rights and the Law”, “Sexual Orientation and Computer Privacy” (about data privacy), and “Scientists and AIDS Research: a Gay Perspective.” In 1985, NOGLSTP presented its first scientific symposium at a AAAS National Meeting, entitled “Homophobia and Social Attitudes: Their Impact on AIDS Research.” The symposium was sponsored by the AAAS Office of Opportunities in Science. At the 1989 AAAS Annual Meeting, NOGLSTP presented a poster entitled “Homophobia in the Scientific Workplace,” which summarized the results of a survey of 5000 employers of scientists and technical professionals. The survey attempted to measure the amount of homophobia in the scientific workplace as part of a broader effort to educate employers about a change in the California State Labor Code that had added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes of people. (NOGLSTP, 2013) One final educational pamphlet of the Chicago Resource Center grant series was published in 1994: “Beyond Biased Samples: challenging the Myths on the Economic Status of Lesbians and Gay Men.” This pamphlet was a joint effort of NOGLSTP and the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies.
NOGLSTP incorporated in the State of California in 1991 and received its initial 501(c)(3) non-profit determination from the IRS in 1992. With that in hand, it was only natural for NOGLSTP to leverage its relationship with AAAS into a more formal collaboration. The 1994 AAAS annual meeting was a pivotal event for NOGLSTP. The timely symposium— “Social, Ethical, and Scientific Perspectives of Biological Research on Sexual Orientation”— was presented in response to then “groundbreaking” research findings showing genetic correlation to homosexuality in a sub-population of gay men. In addition, NOGLSTP was granted affiliate status with AAAS and began regular involvement with organizing timely and newsworthy scientific symposia on topics relevant to LGBT people, presentation of career resources workshops addressing LGBT concerns in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics careers (commonly referred to as STEM careers), collaboration with the AAAS Section on Societal Impacts of Science and Engineering, and career workshops as AAAS annual meetings. Some of these symposia and workshops include:
- 1994 Symposium: “Social, Ethical, and Scientific Perspectives of Biological Research on Sexual Orientation”
- 1997 Symposium: “Assessing the Health Care Needs of the GLBT Communities”
- 2002 Symposium: “Scientific & Ethical Perspectives on the Risks of HIV/AIDS Therapeutics”
- 2005 Symposium: “Defining Male and Female: Biology and the Law”
- 2007 Symposium: “Electronic Mentoring Programs: Benefits to Minority Communities in Science and Technology”
- 2010 Symposium: “Targeting HIV/AIDS Prevention: New Research and Future Avenues”
- 2011 Career Development Workshop: “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender: On Campus and at Work”
- 2012 Career Development Workshop: “Being OUT in the Sciences: Best Practices”
- 2013 Career Development Workshop: “Navigating LGBT in STEM Careers”
- 2014 Career Development Workshop: “Reaching OUT: LGBTQ and Allies in STEM: Mentoring and Resources”
- 2015 Career Development Workshop: “Finding Your Compass with LGBT Issues in STEM”
- 2016 Career Development Workshop: “Bringing Your Whole LGBTQIQ Self to Work and School”
The 1990s was a decade of LGBT activism that resulted in visibility, benefits, and positive change for LGBT people throughout the U.S., as well as some disappointments. Corporations lead the nation in workplace equality, yet the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) could not get out of committee, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed. The Government Accounting Office recommended an end to security clearance discrimination, yet the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy was established. During this decade, NOGLSTP collaborated with many groups and agencies on the issue of LGBT equality and access in the workplace and in professional societies. LGBT employee support groups throughout the nation were responsible for securing inclusive equal employment opportunity and same-sex partner benefits. The first large firm to offer health benefits to the spousal equivalent of LGBT employees was software company Lotus Development. Employers of technical professionals — Xerox, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Apple Computer, Digital Equipment Corporation, IBM — were among the first to adopt non-discrimination policies; thanks to the efforts of NOGLSTP members and regional groups of LGBT scientists and engineers. Caucuses of NOGLSTP members formed to represent statisticians, actuaries, sociologists, epidemiologists, chemists, biologists, mathematicians, neuroscientists, astronomers, meteorologists, anthropologists — and more — organized gatherings at their professional society meetings and encouraged their professional societies to include “sexual orientation” in their EEO statements. NOGLSTP assisted the U.S. General Accounting Office prepare a study to document attitudes and experiences of LGBT people involved in the security clearance process. The GAO study resulted in the 1995 report – “Security Clearances: Consideration of Sexual Orientation in the Clearance Process” – which decoupled the (mistakenly presumed) linkage between sexual orientation and vulnerability to blackmail, and recommended positive changes in the security clearance process and policies.
In the first decade of the 21st century, NOGLSTP continued its scientific symposia and organizational collaborations, and initiated internal programs that would leverage visibility of LGBT scientists, engineers, and other technical professionals nationwide, as well as encourage young LGBT people into the pipeline of technical professions. In 2003, NOGLSTP established a recognition award program to identify, honor, and document the contributions of outstanding queer scientists, engineers, technology professionals, and educators. This benefited the technical community and the LGBT community in two ways. First, it engaged allies at the corporate and higher education levels in acknowledgment of their out LGBT colleagues. Secondly, the growing list of award recipients provided a resource of role models to young LGBT people considering careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. In 2005, NOGLSTP established a mentoring program for LGBT students and early career professionals in STEM by partnering with an existing external organization, MentorNet®. Initially focused on mentoring only women and underrepresented minorities in STEM, MentorNet® added LGBT to its outreach mission at very little urging from NOGLSTP. This partnership allowed NOGLSTP members seeking mentors to participate in the MentorNet® One-on-One mentoring program, created a place where established career professionals could give back to their community as mentors, and connected LGBT protégés with established professionals and human resources pipelines at top science, engineering, and high-technology companies. In 2010, NOGLSTP established what has now become its signature program, Out to Innovate™, a career summit for LGBTQ+ people in STEM. This biennial summit involves cross-generational sharing and career-centric workshops, keynote speakers that are openly-LGBTQ high profile STEM professionals, and career resource opportunities with corporate sponsors and recruiters. In 2011, NOGLSTP realized a long-term goal, with the establishment of a competitive scholarship program for LGBT students in STEM.
Over the years, NOGLSTP has become well known across the USA and is a sought-after partner for collaborations with many organizations and agencies in promoting LGBT visibility and equality. With so many employers of technical professionals in the private, public, and academic sectors electing to include sexual orientation and gender expression as protected classes in their employment non-discrimination policies, NOGLSTP’s initial campaign against homophobia in the technical workplace has evolved into championing inclusion of LGBT people in diversity outreach and broadening participation programs in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine. NOGLSTP has helped open doors and initiate conversations about equality, supplied resources and information about LGBT people in science, and now provides role models, networking, advocacy and support to young LGBT people pursuing careers in the technical professions.
In addition to being an active AAAS Affiliate, NOGLSTP is a participating professional society in the MentorNet® Affiliated Partners Plus program, a sustaining member of the National Postdoctoral Association , an endorsing society of DiscoverE (formerly National Engineers Week), a founding member of the DiscoverE (formerly EWeek) Diversity Council, a partner with the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, an American Chemical Society Diversity Programs Partner,a partnering organization of the National Research Mentoring Network, and a Diversity Partner with DiversityComm.