On being a gay mathematician redux

Looking back

I published the blog post On being a gay mathematician in June 2017. Two years later, I’ve had a generally positive reaction to the post, and I amplified my queer positive message out to the world through my writing and advocacy. I’ve been on a few diversity-type panels and interacted, either in person at conferences or via social media, with several colleagues and students about the blog. I wrote a piece for The Conversation about diversity in the academy and was interviewed in Xtra about the need for mathematicians to come out of the closet.

There is a great deal to be hopeful regarding queer visibility in mathematics and more generally in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The inclusion/exclusion blog of the American Mathematical Society is a powerful resource, as is the 5000 Queer Scientists project, which tells the stories of LGTBQ+ scientists in their own words. There is even a conference this month for LGBTQ+ mathematicians working in geometry, topology, and dynamical systems.

These are all beautiful things. As we move mid-way to 2019, however, there is so much more work to do.

LGBTQ+ mathematicians are not so visible or outspoken as I would like.  Many of us suffer from discrimination or isolation or both, and there remain only a smattering of countries that offer rights and freedoms to us. The excellent organization Rainbow Railroad exists because of the awful truth that there are many LGBTQ+ refugees in the world seeking a safer place to live and love.


I wonder daily about the next steps on the road to equality for LGBTQ+ mathematicians.  Am I doing enough in my own personal advocacy? I have a voice, but it is one voice. Queers are more vocal and visible now in STEM, but there is a nagging feeling that we are in a holding pattern. Or possibly slipping backwards?

Yes, backwards. I heard from a reliable source that a Canadian federal cabinet minister was told by a member of parliament that gays don’t belong in the hard sciences. Really? In 2019, no less.

And I continue checking myself as I described in the original blog, although possibly less so with the passing years. Perhaps I am getting a tougher skin after decades of practice. When you are openly gay, you come out every day, every time you reference your personal life.  I’m polite but cringe every time I mention “spouse” in conversation, and someone refers to my wife. I’ve taken to using “husband” as that is squarely less ambiguous.

LGBTQ+ folks can be philanthropic, sit on diversity panels, and plead our cases in blog posts, but we need your help.

Beyond Pride Month

Pride flags and celebrating Pride Month in your offices are lovely, but we need more than a once a year gesture. The voices of LGTBQ+ folks matter, but we make up a relatively small slice of the population. We can’t achieve equality on our own.

We need straight and cis mathematician colleagues to speak out on our behalf. Your voices together with ours could make real change. We need you to stand up for LGTBQ+ mathematicians at work and beyond.

I don’t have all the answers or even a tangible list of recommendations. But to effect real change, we need those in power to be accountable.

In universities and our professional societies, we need the support of our leaders to be proactive in supporting LGTBQ+ mathematicians and scientists. This is a shout out to all Chairs, Directors, Managers, Deans, Vice Presidents, Presidents and Board members in the academy, industry, and every sector.

Please listen to, advocate for, and respond to LGBTQ+ colleagues.

I’ve asked our university administration to appoint an advisor on LGBTQ+ matters on campus, and while the request was acknowledged, so far I haven’t received a response. Events like LGBTSTEM day need a concerted, collective effort to be effective, and this can’t all be grassroots. Up to this point, no one other than a handful of professors and staff at my university are interested in celebrating this important day on campus.

So today, I’m not so much making a confessional post but more of a call for action. As in my academic talks where I close with open problems, let me end in humility and with deference to our combined wisdom with the following question to you, the reader. What can you do, today, to support your LGTBQ+ colleagues and co-workers?

Anthony Bonato


One thought on “On being a gay mathematician redux

  1. Thanks for posting this – if anyone is interested, there is an organization called Spectra, with a growing group of LGBTQ+ folks in the math community who are trying to build community, point out ways to be supportive, etc. There is a Facebook group and a website, linked here:
    Also, some information on the historical background of Spectra can be found in the AMS Notices from this month (June 2019): https://www.ams.org/notices.
    Thanks again for making your voice heard!


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