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15 Mar 2019

Love your nature

The Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands have a long history of welcoming a diverse array of staff, students, and visitors, including members of the LGBTQI community. This year, we went an extra step to embrace and celebrate diversity through two significant events, including one hosted right here at The Calyx.

While sexual orientation does not appear to be an issue in our organization, acceptance in the workplace remains fragile here as elsewhere, even at the heart of a city like Sydney.

This is especially true for trans and nonbinary colleagues and for “double minorities” such as queer women and people of colour or different cultural backgrounds.

For these reasons, it felt very important to take part in the celebrations of the fabulous Sydney Mardi Gras festival, one of the largest LGBTQI events in the World taking place each year at the end of February.

mardi gra 2019 sydney
Over 50 staff, partners and allies marched on behalf of the Botanic Gardens and Cetennial Parklands.

The parade

This was the first time in history that we officially participated in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, which was marched by 12,500 people and attended by an estimated 500,000 spectators.

Fifty of us, including partners and friends, marched the 10K-long route proudly under the theme ‘Love Your Nature’, wearing amazing botanical costumes or hats behind our truck covered with flowers (made of recycled fabric) and greens donated by our horticultural teams.
 
Significantly, the Parade appeared to have a record number of government organizations among the 197 floats who participated. 

This year was also marked by the participation of several other scientific organizations, including UNSW, University of Sydney, Western Sydney University, Taronga Zoo, and CSIRO.

All who marched, LGBTQI-identifying staff and allies, talked of an incredible experience, with a very positive and contagious energy throughout the night. This was our first (but definitely not last) time for most of us.

The preparations in the months and weeks leading up to the event also proved a remarkable ‘team-building’ experience, allowing many of us from very different sections of the organization to get to know each other much better and work together towards the same goal.

We were also very lucky to have our own DJ and own choreographer, who had us repeat our dance steps fearlessly (well, actually, it was terrifying at first) over and over until we got it almost right.
 
Having our organisation participate in Mardi Gras for the first time was incredible. It gave us all the chance to come together, get creative, celebrate our diversity and be part of this amazing event. I can't wait to do it bigger and better next year.
 
Liz Pensini from the Botanic Gardens & Centennial Parklands

An Evening with 500 Queer Scientists

Earlier during the Mardi Gras season, we also had the privilege of hosting a special event at The Calyx on 19 February called ‘An Evening with 500 Queer Scientists’.

Five gay and lesbian scientists, including myself, shared their stories and answered questions from the audience through a short panel discussion, moderated by Dr Alice Motion, a chemist and science moderator at the University of Sydney.

The sold out event attended by over 140 people was inspired by the 500 Queer Scientists visibility campaign launched in June 2018, which aims at ensuring that the next STEM generation has LGBTQI role models and at helping the current generation to recognize they are not alone.

The event was introduced by a short video from Dr Lauren Esposito (California Academy of Sciences), who founded 500 Queer Scientists.

 

Fearless leaders

This was a very special evening for us speakers as we usually consider our scientist and queer identities separate and not affecting each other. Yet, studies have found that a significant proportion of LGBTQI scientists are not out to their peers and that talented students from sexual minorities are less likely to remain in STEM.

Although most of us had not experienced significant discrimination linked to our sexual orientation throughout our scientific work life, we talked of challenges linked with regional work places, conducting field work in less accepting countries, or starting a career at a different time when homosexuality was still considered a crime.

This was an opportunity for each of us to share our story publicly for the first time and demonstrate that it is possible to develop a successful career in science while being out in the lab and without fear.

This unique event, perhaps the first of its kind in Australia, was a great success according to the feedback from participants.

We note that our panel was not fully representative of the diversity of LGBTQI scientists and their fields and will definitely aim at further increasing diversity when we repeat the event next year.

Love your nature!

The 41st Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade

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