“Institutes need to be aware of LGBTI+ issues”

Interview with Jan Klenke on IDAHOBIT

Today, LGBTI+ folks around the world and their allies observe IDAHOBIT – the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia, and Transphobia. As the Leibniz PhD Network, we would like to express our support for the community. To shed a light on LGBTI+ issues in academia, our Working Group Diversity conducted an interview with our Co-Spokesperson Jan Klenke.

(Note: In this interview, we follow an understanding of the word queer as an adjective for the overarching meaning of the abbreviation LGBTI+, which is why the letter ‘Q’ does not appear in the abbreviation; other understandings of the word queer are thus captured by the ‘+’ sign)

WG Diversity: Hi Jan! May 17 is IDAHOBIT, an important day for LGBTI+ people. What do we need to know about the day?

Jan Klenke: IDAHOBIT was first observed in 2004, originally as IDAHO. The ‘letters’ B, I, and T were included more recently. The day generally serves the purpose to highlight continued violence and discrimination against members of the LGBTI+ community around the globe, so that we can overcome these inequalities. 

WG Diversity: What issues does the community generally face in academia?

Jan Klenke: There are many issues for LGBTI+ people in academia. Generally, LGBTI+ issues are often neglected in research designs outside of gender studies, but there also is only little data on the situation of LGBTI+ people in academia itself. Moreover, queer people are not very visible in academia. Therefore, I appreciate the opportunity to talk as a bisexual person about issues affecting the community in academia.

WG Diversity: Regarding the issue of visibility: What can be done to increase it?

Jan Klenke: I think the most simple thing research institutes can do is to fly rainbow colors at occasions like IDAHOBIT or pride month if they have a flag post. Thereby, they send a public message of support. It really means something to queer people. However, this can only be a first step. The institutes and their networks need to discuss what diversity means to them beyond the binary female-male gender equality issue and they need to make LGBTI+ issues visible in their policy documents. Currently, none of the important Leibniz guidelines, for example, include LGBTI+ topics explicitly, but instead put forward general notions of diversity. Institutes and their associations should also encourage and support LGBTI+ networks of their researchers and they need to foster an inclusive work environment that gives the queer people at their institutes the insurance that the institute will have their back if they face discrimination in the work place after coming out.

WG Diversity: You said institutes need to foster this kind of inclusive work environment. How can that be achieved?

Jan Klenke: This starts with taking complaints seriously and requires consequent action thereafter. When queer people claim to have been bullied because of their sexual orientation or identity, they often face reactions stating that it was not that bad or probably just a joke. Consequently, institutes frequently leave these conflicts to the individuals where conflicts might not be adequately solved. Doctoral researchers who are dependent on their supervisors are especially vulnerable in such situations. To ensure an appropriate handling of those situations, each person in a leadership position should partake in workshops and courses to increase their sensitivity towards discrimination – which, by the way, also holds true for other issues of discrimination such as discrimination because of racism, religion or disabilities. This pertains to both junior and experienced leaders. In the Leibniz Association and its members, there is quite some room for improvement as only one third of leadership personnel in Leibniz has participated in courses on equality issues according to the Gleichstellungsreport 2020. Another important recommendation is that more research institutes in Germany should sign the Charta der Vielfalt, adopt its definitions of diversity and implement the consequences derived thereof.

WG Diversity: Speaking of consequences: What is the big picture of consequences queer researchers face when these kinds of measures are not taken?

Jan Klenke: As I said earlier, there are not many studies on the situation of queer people in academia. The few studies and reports out there also typically give either qualitative accounts or are US-based. Thus, we need to be careful with generalizations or transfer to a European or specific German context. Nevertheless, the findings appear to be plausible for our situation here as well. These studies find LGBTI+ researchers to face career limitations, as well as more frequent harassment at the workplace, professional devaluation by peers and supervisors, mental health issues and they also tend to leave academia all together more often than their cis-hetero peers 1,2,3,4.The practices contributing to this include, for example, the denial of recommendation letters to applicants for doctoral research positions, cancellation of classes and verbal bullying. It is imperative that such practices stop. It is unjust to treat queer individuals this way, and on top of this, it drives them away from dedicating their intellect to the research we all need . Academia owes it to them to make effective progress here.

WG Diversity: Thank you for this interview! We will also continue to work on these issues in the Leibniz PhD Network.

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