June is Pride Month—an entire month dedicated to uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, celebrating their culture, and supporting LGBTQ+ rights. It started with the Stonewall Uprising in June 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located in Greenwich Village in New York City, New York. The uprising helped launch LGBT political activism and led to creation of many of today’s gay rights organizations.
LGBTQ is an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning and is used to describe someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The “plus” is often seen as “+” after the Q. It’s used to signify all of the gender identities and sexual orientations, including Two-Spirit, a pan-Indigenous American identity, and Non-Binary.
To celebrate Pride Month we’re highlighting our science center’s recently created Employee Resource Group called the LGBTQIA+ ERG. We interviewed the ERG’s co-chairs Paul Clark, biological sciences technician at our Milford Lab, and Patricia “Trish” Clay, anthropologist in our Social Sciences Branch, to learn more about the ERG, their goals, what kinds of topics and issues they’re addressing, and why they decided to lead the ERG.
What is the LGBTQIA+ ERG, why and when did it form, and why is it important?
Paul: First and foremost, the LGBTQIA+ ERG is a safe, welcoming, and affirming space for folks working at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center who identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies. In this safe space, we’re able to create a sense of community, provide support, and discuss issues and topics specific to our demographic without fear of judgement or discrimination. It was formed in December 2020 to support policies that will help make our science center a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.
What are some of the ERG goals?
Trish: We’re looking to create a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people within our science center to get to know each other and offer mutual support. We’re also bringing in speakers to talk about LGBTQ+ topics and issues. We’re holding virtual movie-watching get-togethers and other events to help our whole science center better understand and respect the LGBTQ+ community.
Paul: Yes, our goal is to create a safe and welcoming environment where we can discuss topics and issues specific to our demographic. We also want to effect change, provide educational opportunities, and promote diversity, equality, and inclusion within our science center. Our activities, events, and the issues we’re addressing are quite fluid. We want to listen to our ERG members and work toward effective solutions to problems, issues, policies, and concerns they have. We’re just 6 months into this new initiative and we’ve already started to address critical needs and create a path forward to meet them.
Trish: Exactly. We’re still new, but we are excited by where we are so far, and the support we’ve received from science center leadership and employees.
What topics and issues is the ERG addressing and how are you addressing them?
Paul: We’re working on a wide variety of topics and issues important to the LGBTQIA+ community. For example, one of our members is working within the NOAA Pride ERG to handle name changes on email addresses with our U.S. Department of Commerce. We’re also working on how sleeping quarters aboard research vessels are assigned, to make the process more accommodating.
Trish: We’re trying to familiarize the science center with a variety of LGBTQIA+ issues. Most people want to be welcoming, but don’t always know how. For instance, using correct pronouns is a huge piece of making everyone feel seen and welcomed. That’s why we invited Lucas Johannsen of the NOAA Pride ERG to give a presentation on pronouns and some general background on gender and sexual orientation terminology.
Paul: We recently hosted Mia Yamamoto, a Japanese-American transgender woman, to tell us about her life’s journey and work as a criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist. We want to help others learn how to be an ally, and use inclusive language when speaking to someone in our community or about our community. We want them to better understand the struggles, triumphs, and discrimination LGBTQIA+ folks experience. A great way to do that is by watching LGBTQ+ movies and having follow-up discussions.
Trish: In February, we watched the movie Moonlight featuring a Black gay man grappling with his identity and sexuality. These activities help us start to recognize that people may have multiple intersecting identities that can make them especially vulnerable to discrimination.
Paul: In celebration of Pride Month, we’re going to be offering an “LGBTQ+ 101: Identities and Allyship” training. It will help educate folks about diversity within the LGBTQ+ community and how to become an ally, and provide information for parents and families of LGBTQ+ youth. These trainings, opportunities, and activities are all important ways to better understand and support our community. I wanted to bring these to the science center because they were never talked about or supported here before. I think when we learn about these kinds of experiences, we become more compassionate and welcoming of those in the LGBTQ+ community. Our goal is to see that happen here so current and future staff, interns, students, and collaborators will feel welcomed and accepted.
Can you share why you wanted to lead/co-lead the LGBTQIA+ ERG?
Trish: I’m not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, so I initially hesitated to volunteer as a co-lead with Paul. However, I do have a child in the LGBTQIA+ community and I worry for them out in the world with so much discrimination. This is one small way I can try to make the world more welcoming for them.
Paul: I wanted to make sure that all LGBTQIA+ individuals at our science center had a safe and welcoming place to turn to when they needed help, support, or a sense of community. These things weren’t there for me for most of my career so I wanted to make sure others did not have the same experiences I did during most of my time here.
What does the future hold for this ERG?
Paul: The future of our ERG is bright. We’ll continue to provide and foster an environment that welcomes ALL people with open arms. It’s my personal hope that this group will continue to provide a sense of community and belonging for LGBTQIA+ people. I hope it provides opportunities for our colleagues to learn more about how to welcome and support members of our community and each other.
Trish: I want to see this group be so successful that people outside the science center hear about it and want to work here because they know it’s a welcoming place for everyone.
What are the top two or three things that have helped to make this ERG a reality and a success?
Paul: The top three things are the support of our leadership, involvement of our members, and the commitment, drive, and determination of the co-chairs to provide a sense of community for LGBTQIA+ people in our science center.
Trish: I’d have to say Claudia Womble, who was on detail last year as our diversity and inclusion officer, helped make this ERG a reality. We also had amazing support from leadership at all levels—especially right from the top with our director, Jon Hare, and deputy director Nicole Cabana.
For more information, please contact Heather Soulen.