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To mark Pride Month, C&EN highlights the lives and careers of LGBTQ+ chemists from history

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
June 11, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 22

June is Pride Month. It is celebrated annually in the US to honor those who were involved in the Stonewall uprising. The uprising was a series of spontaneous demonstrations that happened during a week in the summer of 1969 after New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar—and now also a National Historic Landmark—in lower Manhattan.

Pride is a monthlong celebration around the globe that includes parades, parties, protests, memorials, and countless other events and activities.

At C&EN we wanted to mark this occasion by publishing “LGBTQ+ Chemists You Should Know About.” The last year and a half has taught us that life is short and full of unexpected turns that have the power to shape our lives. We have learned that every day is an opportunity to learn, grow, celebrate others, and become stronger and more grateful and compassionate human beings.

“LGBTQ+ Chemists You Should Know About” is a preliminary list of nine trailblazing LGBTQ+ chemists from history. This list of innovative scientists is presented as a series of mini profiles that commemorate their lives and careers and highlight “the long-standing contributions of LGBTQ+ chemists, many of whom you won’t find in textbooks.” It is possible that you may not have even heard about many or some of them before; others are familiar names. In this list you’ll find, among others, Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring and credited with launching the global environmental movement; Bruce Voeller, the biochemist and pioneering AIDS researcher who coined the term acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS); and Ben Barres, who changed our understanding of glial cells’ role in the brain.

We plan to keep adding to the list over time, so if you have suggestions for a historical or recently deceased LGBTQ+ chemical scientist to include, please complete the survey at

Besides playing our part in filling gaps in the historical record, we want to use these profiles for our 2022 Trailblazers issue, which will be dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community. C&EN’s Trailblazers is an annual special issue designed to celebrate diversity in the chemical sciences. Our inaugural 2020 Trailblazers issue was dedicated to women entrepreneurs and guest edited by Jennifer Doudna, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry later that year; the 2021 Trailblazers issue celebrated Black excellence in the chemical sciences with guest editor Paula Hammond, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For the 2022 issue, as with previous Trailblazers, we will invite a guest editor to help us create and curate content. The issue will celebrate the LGBTQ+ chemistry community and spotlight a group that has often faced prejudice and hostility.

I’d like to finish with a quote from a guest editorial that Tom Welton, current president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, wrote for C&EN in 2016. In his piece he speaks about coming out as a gay scientist in the 1980s, an experience that he describes as positive while acknowledging that it may have been unusual for the time.

He writes that scientists who are not out often tell him “about their fears of the consequences that it might have for their careers.” He adds, “I always tell them about the positive experiences that I have had. What is surprising to me is how surprising this is to them. Their expectation is that they will experience prejudice, if not hostility.

“If, as a community, we did more to celebrate our inclusivity, we would go some way to being able to allay these fears.”

Here’s to our differences. Let’s celebrate inclusion.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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