What Pride Means to You: Being Transgender in Science

June is the month of Gay Pride in New York and many other states that celebrate gay pride. Historically June is the month of Gay Pride because it commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, that began in the early morning of June 28, 1969.  Gay Pride has evolved in several ways over the decades, starting as Gay Day on the last day of June, close to the day the riots started, and culminating today as an entire month to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and continue the fight for equality. In this post, I would like to highlight one of the most pivotal an influential people that fought for our rights in the Stonewall Riots, Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender woman of color.

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Financial services firm AllianceBernstein’s “Is is really getting better?” Pride event

Employees of the financial services firm AllianceBernstein invited the PRISM Board to its Pride event entitled “Is is really getting better?” on June 21 in Midtown Manhattan.

Anthony Thompson, a Principal at Bernstein Private Wealth Management, opened the event with very moving remarks, explaining that, in the past 20 years, there have been many positive changes for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States, including new developments in HIV and Hepatitis C treatment and prevention, as well as equal rights and marriage legalization for same-sex couples. Mr. Thompson then discussed how, despite these advances, some members of the LGBTQ+ community are still particularly vulnerable, especially transgender people of color, dozens of whom were murdered in recent years. Even though things really are getting better for some segments of the LGBTQ+ community, there are still many arenas where LGBTQ+ people need legal protections and societal respect and acceptance. After this sobering beginning to the presentation, the host mentioned four notable quotations from country music icon Dolly Parton, a resident of Nashville, Tennessee, where AllianceBernstein will open a new office in the coming years:

  • "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap."
  • "I'm not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I'm not dumb... and I also know that I'm not blonde."
  • "The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."
  • "We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails."

Then, the company debuted its latest video about being openly LGBTQ+ at the firm, as an update to the video they produced five years ago. Next, four LGBTQ+ AllianceBernstein employees shared, in a panel discussion, their experiences coming out to their families and at work in the financial sector, which has a reputation for being conservative relative to other industries. The event concluded with a reception with sweeping views of Central Park from AllianceBernstein’s 41st-story office space.

The PRISM Survey: 2018

In late 2015, five trainees at Rockefeller created People at Rockefeller Identifying as Sexual/Gender Minorities (PRISM), to address a perceived lack of community for LGBTQ+ people at Rockefeller University. Along with that lack of community came a lack of data, so PRISM’s first action was to survey our constituency in 2016.

Two years later, we at PRISM wanted to update those data to make sure that the activities we provide are still in line with what our community needs. While the goal of the 2016 survey was to get a broad view of what it was like to be LGBTQ+ at Rockefeller, we decided this year to more narrowly collect information about our membership and the activities they enjoyed, as well as what more they wanted to see from us going forward. Here we present data on two main findings:

  1. LGBTQ+ people continue to exist at all levels at Rockefeller (except, still, heads of lab)

  2. More LGBTQ+ people here feel a sense of community, but there’s still much more that PRISM can do

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New Rockefeller app lists gender-neutral bathrooms

The new RU app has improved the communications and knowledge about the campus. Now, you can search for the lunch menu, employee benefits, or the latest news of the University as well as locate the gender-neutral/single-stall bathrooms. In order to access to the list, you first need to download the app (called “The Rockefeller University”) to your phone, and once you create a username and password to enter the app, you will find the bathroom information under the folder “Getting around RU.”

Rockefeller-Mount Sinai LGBTQ happy hour

On June 1, 2018 Rockefeller PRISM hosted a joint happy hour with a newly formed Mount Sinai LGBTQ organization. The event included approximately 25 people from the two institutions and lasted for about 4 hours. One participant later wrote on social media, "For the first time in a while, my friendly inquiries about the life stories of strangers were welcomed with colorful elaborations rather than viewed with suspicion followed by a minimal answer." We look forward to hosting more events to facilitate meaningful connections among the LGBTQ science community. 

PRISM's Lunch with Paul Beirne

On April 19, some of the PRISM board members had lunch with Paul Beirne, a friend of PRISM. Mr. Beirne is a National Managing Director with AllianceBernstein, a global investment management firm based in New York that manages over $500 billion for individuals, families, pension plans, unions, foundations, public funds, and other entities. Mr. Beirne has been involved in various developments in the Rockefeller campus. During lunch we discussed similarities and differences between science and finance for LGBTQ+ people. We also talked about the importance of having a work organization representing the LGBTQ+ interests in order to make the work environment a safer and more reliable place to grow professionally and personally. He also talked about his experience and the importance of having role models that would share the vision and values of the profession. He shared with us AllianceBernstein's video produced for Pride a few years ago.

 (L to R) Paul Beirne (AllianceBernstein) and PRISM board members Mariano Cardenas, Aylesse Sordillo, Molly Liu, Gabriella Spitz-Becker, and Aaron Mertz in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Lounge.

(L to R) Paul Beirne (AllianceBernstein) and PRISM board members Mariano Cardenas, Aylesse Sordillo, Molly Liu, Gabriella Spitz-Becker, and Aaron Mertz in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Lounge.

PRISM/WISeR Breakfast with Dr. Clare Waterman highlights

We are very happy to share that a lot of people attended the PRISM and WISeR breakfast with Dr. Clare Waterman, NIH Distinguished Investigator on Friday, April 6, at 9am. First of all, we would like to congratulate Dr. Waterman for have recently gotten married and for sharing that exciting news with us! On the one hand, we discussed about her experience as a successful scientist and mentor, as well as how she motivates and trains the future scientists in her lab.

On the other hand, we asked her about her coming out as a lesbian and her experience in science. Dr. Waterman replied “I came out when I was 13 years old and I never had any issues with that. Being gay has never been part of my job. I am a good scientist. That’s all”. She shared that she never felt any discrimination in her work environment and emphasized that her successful career allowed her to ask her employers for health insurance for her partner among other benefits.

Dr. Waterman shared that she was involved in many demonstrations to claim the legalization of marriage equality in California. Thanks, Dr. Waterman, for all the things you have done for our community!

Dr. Waterman is a NIH Distinguished Investigator and has received numerous awards and honors for her work, including the Arthur S. Flemming Award for Public Service (Basic Science) from George Washington University. Dr. Waterman has made fundamental advances in the understanding of cytoskeletal interactions and has authored or coauthored more than 90 papers.


PRISM Breakfast with Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi

On June 3, PRISM hosted Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi of Stanford University for a roundtable breakfast discussion. She is an out lesbian scientist who researches how cell–surface interactions contribute to human health and disease, with regard to cancer, inflammation, and bacterial infection. In 2007, she was awarded the GLBT Scientist of the Year Award from the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals.


The PRISM Survey: LGBTQ+ experience at RU

People at Rockefeller Identifying as Sexual Minorities (PRISM) formed in late 2015 because we five founders saw a lack of formal LGBTQ+ community at Rockefeller University. Since we are the first group at Rockefeller focusing on LGBTQ+ issues, we had no data about what our community here looked like. So, as good scientists, we set out to get some! Over two weeks in January, we invited all Rockefeller community members by email to fill out a 5-minute survey about LGBTQ+ experiences.

The survey was a great success, garnering 191 responses from both LGBTQ+ folk and straight allies. While these data draw on a non-representative sample and are therefore incomplete, they provide a fascinating first glimpse into LGBTQ+ life at Rockefeller. Here are some main findings:

  1. LGBTQ+ people exist at Rockefeller at all levels (except, notably, heads of lab)

  2. LGBTQ+ people feel mostly safe at Rockefeller, but many remain guarded about their identities: More LGBTQ+ people than not say that science is a friendly place for them. However, many respondents are wary of disclosing their identities, especially around senior colleagues. Most respondents have not personally experienced bias or harassment, but those who have are disproportionately LGBTQ+, women, and especially both.

  3. LGBTQ+ people have needs that PRISM can fill: a visible community, access to senior role models, and a community across NY institutions.

Next: data illustrating these findings.

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PRISM's Coming Out Party

On Wednesday, February 17, PRISM hosted its inaugural event, a mixer for LGBTQ+ scientists and friends, at the solarium on the 38th floor of Scholars Residence across the street from campus, with sweeping views of the East River, Queens, and Midtown Manhattan. We were thrilled at the turnout for our "Coming Out" party—over 60 people. We are excited to create community for LGBTQ+ scientists at Rockefeller and beyond and look forward to planning future social and professional events.