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.  

In our current political climate, one of the most targeted groups of people with in the LGBTQ+ community are transgender folks.  The transgender community is extremely diverse, and that is what makes it so beautiful, but within the general transgender community some groups are targeted more than others—especially trans women of color like Marsha P. Johnson. Marsha P. Johnson was not only instrumental in starting the Stonewall Riots, a catalyst for an already growing movement for gay rights, she also helped start foundations to help the most marginalized people within the LGBTQ+ communities.  It is people like Marsha who have paved the way for the degree of tolerance and existence we enjoy in our society today.

Another guiding light in the transgender community was Ben Barres, an exceptional scientific researcher who in 2013 was the first transgender person to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.  In an unfortunate turn of events he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which he succumbed to at the end of December 2017.  However, his legacy as a trans advocate and an intersectional feminist lives on.  His unique experience of having been perceived as a woman in society for many decades allowed him to be a man who truly understood the impact of gender discrimination against women that exists within the scientific field.  He was very open about his transition, increasing vital trans visibility, and he also used his experience to address the treatment of women in science, and made strides to change that.

Being openly transgender in science is rare and presents many of the same difficulties of being transgender in our current society.  I am proud to say that The Rockefeller University stands behind its LGBTQ+ community, not just in policy but in practice.  I have been humbled over and over again by the readiness of acceptance from my Head of Lab and entire lab. The Human Resources, Benefits, and Occupational Health departments at Rockefeller have been instrumental in easing the process of transitioning professionally.  Trust me when I say it is not a straight forwards process; it is difficult logistically, as well as emotionally.  However, so many people from Rockefeller came together and collaborated with me so that my professional transition would be as gentle and as seamless as possible.  

As a queer, transgender scientist, being able to follow a trail blazed by people like Marsha and Ben like guiding lights in the darkness, has allowed me to be the person I’ve always known myself to be.  It takes a village to make a trans man, and I will never forget the kindness and support that the Rockefeller Community has shown me along the way.  If you are in the Rockefeller Community, myself, RU PRISM, and the University are here to support you on your journey to live your authentic life as an out scientist. You are not alone in this.  

This year RU PRISM is linking up with oSTEM to march in the Manhattan Pride Parade.  I couldn’t be more thrilled to march with 60 LGBTQ+ peers and allies from Rockefeller as well as at least 15 other institutions.  This year I march for Marsha P. Johnson, Ben Barres, and most importantly The Rockefeller University.

Tom Wiley

Lab Coordinator

Laboratory of Genome Maintenance

Happy Pride 2018!