I am gay and I am a whale biologist.//
For a long time I thought that describing myself as gay AND as a marine biologist didn’t belong in the same sentence. After all, I always felt that aspects of my personal life, including who I am attracted to, had zero relevance to my professional work as a scientist. But as I have worked through my own issues and have become a more integrated and authentic individual, I have come to believe that how I identify myself does define who I am. And because homophobia, violence, and discrimination against LGBTQ-identified people are still rampant in our society, I now feel that I need to be more actively engaged and visible as member of our community.
I was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, and moved to the USA after completing my undergraduate in marine biology to pursue graduate studies. I repressed my feelings and pursued a heterosexual lifestyle well into my 30s, deciding to focus on my studies and career. I didn’t know other gay people and there were no role models for gay scientists in my professional field. But as I started to confront my feelings I decided I no longer wanted to live a lie and came out, initially to my then wife and my family, and later to close friends.
It has been a long road but I have to terms with myself. However, I still felt that the lack of representation of LGBTQ folks in the sciences was indicative of a leaky pipeline. Although not necessarily outwardly hostile, the professional societies that I belonged to did not provide any notion of being accepting of LGBTQ people. Finally, in the lead up to the 2015 biennial conference of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, I decided to float the idea to the organizers of having a social mixer on the agenda for LGBTQ scientists. They accepted the proposal and the event was a success, with over 150 people attending it! Since that time the Society has adopted an LGBTQ night as part of the conference program, and more recently an ad-hoc committee on D&I has been set up,in which I currently serve.
In addition to maintaining visibility as a member of the LGBTQ community, in my current role as a university professor I have pledged my commitment to diversity by providing mentoring, advising, and experiential learning opportunities to students from underrepresented groups; serving as a “safe-space” point of contact for LGBTQ students and colleagues; hosting visits from underrepresented colleagues as guest speakers and collaborators; and maintaining social media presence that includes content relevant to current issues in diversity and inclusion in academia.