Friday 5 July 2019

Strength in Diversity – Dr Joe Nunez-Mino

I’m posting this blog today because in 2018 the 5 July was declared as International Day of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) also known as LGBTSTEM Day1. The day was created in order to help raise awareness and increase support of diversity and inclusion in STEM. It comes just a few days after Pride Month (June) during which many organisations and learned societies, such as the Royal Society and the British Library, have acknowledged and marked LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations by displaying rainbow colours – this year more institutions have joined in because it is 50 years since the Stonewall riots in New York. While most people have reacted positively, a small minority are vociferous in their rejection of equality which demonstrates that there is still a need to educate more individuals. Bat conservationists everywhere will know all about the need to educate.  

The critical question that actually matters is what does respect of human diversity and equality have to do with conservation and bat conservation in particular? The truth is that it should have absolutely nothing to do with it but as Rocha & Hua (2018) have stated in a letter in Nature “Overcoming the planet’s unprecedented challenges will demand all of our combined intellectual power — regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability or any other diversity dimension that is currently under-represented in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM)2 

Two things that have played a central part in my life are wildlife conservation and the need for greater equality. I have fought to further both at every opportunity because I care about the world we live in and the inheritance we leave for the next generation. As an openly gay man my sexuality has sometimes conflicted with my work as a conservation biologist particularly when I worked in countries where intolerance and prejudice were enshrined in law and/or considered to be acceptable behaviour. I know how damaging and isolating hiding a part of who you are can be. Having said that, I have also experienced prejudice in the UK both because of my sexuality and because of my Spanish background even though I was born and raised in the UK. Those experiences have spurred me on to do something about it by trying to fight all forms of discrimination including racism, misogyny, religious intolerance as well as transphobia and homophobia. Lack of inclusivity is damaging at the personal level as well as to society at large. This is one reason why I am a member of the British Ecological Society Equality and Diversity Workgroup3. We need to make sure that all science and conservation is welcoming and inclusive. Without being truly representative, we are likely to struggle to be relevant to a significant part of the population.

I’m confident that anyone considering getting involved in the conservation sector will find the bat conservation community welcoming; this is something that we should be celebrating. By being visible, those of us that are part of that community let others know just how inclusive we are. We already have similar examples of successful inclusivity. We should be rightly proud of the fact that so many women are involved in bat conservation, visibility has empowered other women to get involved. Those of us who are from groups who are not immediately visible need to be more explicit and vocal about who we are so that we can also be positive role models for our peers.

This weekend I will be marching with the Royal Society of Biology at London Pride which is a yearly event celebrating and promoting LGBT+ equality. The theme for this year’s march is the celebration of 50 years since the birth of the modern LGBT+ rights movement. We have made tremendous progress in bat conservation in that time too but as we all know there is more work to be done. It won’t be easy but there is strength in our diversity and inclusivity, and I am hopeful that this can help us continue to make progress on both fronts.

2.  2. Rocha, R & Hua, F. (2018) Tackle all forms of under-representation in science Nature 557, 637 doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05289-5

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