Dec 17, 2019

LGBTQ+ individuals face harassment in astronomy, planetary science

Miriam Kramer, author of Space

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

LGBTQPAN* women and gender non-conforming individuals in astronomy and planetary science face harassment in their workplaces, according to a new study in the Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society.

Why it matters: The study is a stark look into the hostile environment many members of the astronomy and planetary science community face at work.

"We have very real issues with harassment and negative language being either heard more or being pushed towards highly underrepresented intersectional groups like women of color and LGBTQPAN women and gender non-conforming people within our society."
— study co-author Christina Richey to Axios

What they found: The study found that 21% of LGBTQPAN women and gender non-conforming people surveyed in astronomy and planetary science were physically harassed in their workplaces between 2011 and 2015.

  • By contrast, the percentage for heterosexual, cisgender women during that time period was 9%.
  • The study — which surveyed a total of 474 people in the field — also found 47% of LGBTQPAN women and gender non-conforming individuals were verbally harassed in that timeframe.

Context: The new study comes on the heels of research in recent years attempting to characterize the hardships women, people of color and other groups face in the sciences.

  • Another study from this group of authors published in 2017 found that 40% of women of color surveyed in astronomy and planetary science felt unsafe at work due to their gender or sex, while 28% of women of color felt unsafe because of their race.
  • An extensive 2018 report from the National Academies found, in part, that institutions need to look past just legal compliance with harassment policies and actively create a climate of respect, transparency and safety.

What to watch: The influx of studies and high-profile cases revealing prominent astronomers’ histories of harassment has led to broader awareness of these problems in astronomy and science as a whole.

  • According to some, however, there’s still a long way to go before academia is a truly safe space for marginalized individuals.
  • "Our first recommendation from our paper is that institutional leadership should prioritize the physical, sexual and psychological safety of all their workers," Richey said. "I feel like that should never have to be said, and yet it has to be the first recommendation in our paper."

* LGBTQPAN refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, pansexual, asexual, and/or nonbinary.

Go deeper: Sexual harassment remains rampant in tech

Go deeper

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Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Eight states plus D.C. are holding primary elections today following a week of intense protests across the country over the brutal police killing of George Floyd.

Why it matters: It's the first major test for voting since the national outcry. Concerns over civil unrest and the police — as well as the coronavirus and expanded absentee voting — could reduce the number of voters showing up in person but heighten tensions for those who do.

Axios-Ipsos poll: America’s big racial divide on police, virus

Data: Ipsos/Axios survey; Note: ±3.2% margin of error; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

A new Axios-Ipsos poll finds that America has a massive racial gulf on each of our twin calamities — trust in police, and fear of the coronavirus.

  • 77% of whites say they trust local police, compared with just 36% of African Americans — one of many measures of a throbbing racial divide in Week 11 of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, taken the week George Floyd was killed by a white policeman in Minneapolis.
Updated 43 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Updates: George Floyd protests nationwide

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued for a seventh day across the U.S., with President Trump threatening on Monday to deploy the military if the unrest continues.

The latest: Four police officers were struck by gunfire while standing near a line in St Louis on Monday after a peaceful demonstration, Police Chief John Hayden said early Tuesday. They were all taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. He said a small group of people had thrown rocks and fireworks at police officers.