To what extent and why do LGBTQ+ instructors reveal their identities in their STEM courses?

Katelyn Cooper
Assistant Professor
Arizona State University

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ+) undergraduates have higher attrition from STEM majors than their straight and cisgender peers and perceive that they would benefit from knowing LGBTQ+ instructors. Our preliminary data highlight that an instructor revealing their LGBTQ+ identity in a STEM class in less than 3 seconds can have a positive impact on both LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ students. However, few undergraduates report knowing LGBTQ+ STEM instructors and no studies have assessed the impact of instructors coming out to STEM undergraduates at scale. As the first step in this project, we examined: (1) to what extent science and engineering instructors identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, (2) to what extent LGBTQ+ instructors reveal their identities in various academic contexts, (3) how instructors come out to undergraduates, and (4) what factors affect their decision to reveal or conceal their LGBTQ+ identities. We conducted a national survey of science and engineering faculty and instructors at very high research institutions (N=2,097), 108 of whom identify as LGBTQ+ (5.2%). Of the LGBTQ+ participants, 23.5% revealed their LGBTQ+ identities related to sexuality and/or romantic attraction whereas 26.1% revealed their LGBTQ+ gender identities to all undergraduates in their courses. Instructors commonly revealed their LGBTQ+ identities during introductions at the beginning of the course. The most common reasons that instructors revealed LGBTQ+ identities to all undergraduates were because they wanted to be a known supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and they typically share their LGBTQ+ identity with others. Conversely, the most common reasons instructors chose to conceal LGBTQ+ identities were because they did not perceive their LGBTQ+ identities to be relevant to course content and they did not have a personal enough relationship with students.The first step in this IUSE project highlights the prevalence of potential LGBTQ+ role models for STEM undergraduates. Understanding LGBTQ+ instructor motivation for revealing and concealing their identities to students reveals potential ways in which students may benefit from LGBTQ+ instructor role models, as well as potential consequences instructors could face for coming out. This research is a foundational step in creating more inclusive STEM classrooms for all undergraduates.


Carly A. Busch, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona; Sara E. Brownell, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona