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Pride Month: How LGBTQ+ individuals are changing the STEM field for the better

LGBTQ+ STEM workers experience a higher rate of social exclusion in the work place and are more likely to have their expertise discounted, according to researchers.

DES MOINES, Iowa — He’s a familiar face to Local 5 News viewers on “Good Morning Iowa.” Whether it’s sunny, snowy or rainy, Brandon Lawrence is the guy who’s going tell you as you get your day started.

“One day, weather just kind of clicked,” he said.

That moment was pivotal for Lawrence. After pursuing science ever since he was a kid, he had a career in mind.

“I always took part in science fairs and I was a part of the different science and math honor societies. I was always super interested in the different fields of science and when I went to Mississippi State, I went and got my degree in meteorology,” Lawrence said. 

He put in all that work to earn his place in the field of STEM, but, according to Lawrence, his biggest challenge was still ahead of him.

Lawrence's pronouns are he, him and his and he identifies as a gay man.

“I was worried about public perception. My first job in TV was in the South, and I did not publicly acknowledge it at all. I just kind of kept it to myself and I did not put that part of my life in the public eye and I was very worried that if I did, people would start to write into the station and maybe they would comment on social media and disapprove of it," Lawrence said. "Then, I was worried that my managers or leaders would say ‘Either tone it down or we can’t have this because people are complaining about you."

Lawrence's experiences are not uncommon for LGBTQ+ people in STEM. A 2021 American Association for the Advancement of Sciences study highlighted inequalities in the field.

Researchers surveyed more than 25,000 full-time STEM employees, more than a thousand of which identified as LGBTQ+.

The study found “LGBTQ STEM professionals thought about leaving their job more frequently and were more likely to have considered leaving their stem field entirely."

LGBTQ+ STEM workers experience a higher rate of social exclusion in the work place and are more likely to have their expertise discounted. The study also said they face more colleague devaluation.

“The data is very clear that it’s a cis(gender) male dominated profession and that queer people that are working in STEM right now are at a much higher risk of discrimination within their field,” said Damian Thompson, the director of public policy for Iowa Safe Schools.

Thompson said the organization has worked through the years to encourage LGBTQ+ youth to explore stem careers.

“We really need more LGBTQ folks in that field to increase representation to hopefully make it a more attractive career choice for our students,” he said.

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For Lawrence, a more inclusive STEM landscape is something that's not only achievable but preferable.

“We want our world and our career fields to be as diverse as possible because I’m such a firm believe that diversity makes us better, makes us stronger,” he said.

With the research showing the odds against LGBTQ+ people, Lawrence's strength came from none other than his mom.

“When I came out to her, I don’t know that I’d ever been that scared of anything in my whole life. And I don’t know why I was that scared because I always knew she would accept me and that she would be there for me. She has been really helpful. She pushed me along in school, held me to a really high standard and always said ‘You go after whatever it is you’re going to go after,’” he said.

That’s the kind of support Lawrence and Thompson want to show other youth interested in STEM careers.

“One misconception I hear is that it’s just a bunch of nerdy old guys in a computer lab, which is far from the truth,” said Thompson.

Take it from the familiar “Good Morning Iowa” face who’s not a nerdy, old guy in a computer lab. 

“Go for it and don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t do it,” Lawrence said.

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