On Being Constantly Forced By Friendly Fire To Hide Under The Bus
I tried very hard not to write this piece, because pieces like this rarely accomplish anything positive, and to the contrary, often result in further harassment and marginalization. But if there is one thing I am truly terrible at in life (and actually, there are quite a few) it is not saying things. So here we are.
As a married gay man who is responsible for providing access to gender affirming health care for a close family member, I have learned time and time again that I am extremely expendable. I don’t want this piece to turn into a complete history of bad things that have happened to my family because of our LGBTQ+ identities, because that list is very long and includes rescinded job offers, offensive slurs, rejection by family and friends, harassment of anonymous and non-anonymous flavors, terrible geographic Sophie’s Choices made to minimize harm to us, and let’s not forget actual death threats. Instead, I want to focus specifically on how my profession treats my family. Short answer: not well.
I’m a mathematician by training, though I feel increasingly isolated and unwelcome in the mathematics community. I’ve already chronicled the ways in which the American Mathematical Society, of which I am no longer a member, has thrown LGBTQ+ individuals under the bus. You can read that sordid tale if you like, and I will simply add that what made it especially difficult is that many people who have been decision makers in that organization over the years are people I know closely, and we ostensibly like each other, which makes the marginalization hurt even more.
Well, since once is never enough, it’s now happening with the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). The MAA’s big annual meeting is called Mathfest. Mathfest happens every summer, and this year, it will be in Florida. I got invited to give a talk in a session at Mathfest but I refused because Florida does not like my family and is not safe for my family. If you want to see why, just look at the red X’s in this table, including (but definitely not limited to) the following delights for LGBTQ+ people:
- Discrimination in goods/services is a-ok.
- Crimes against people on the basis of their LGBTQ+ identities are not hate crimes.
- The gay panic defense is a totally feasible option.
- It’s cool to censor LGBTQ content in education.
Also, let’s not forget what just happened, namely,
- Gender affirming care for minors is illegal, which means I am literally a criminal in Florida.
In the math community, there has been a lot of discourse about how conference site selection is difficult because no place is perfect for (nor perfectly accessible to) everyone. By selecting a state with such grossly codified hate of LGBTQ+ people, the MAA is saying “so LGBTQ+ folx are among the ones we’re willing to sacrifice.” Again, for me, this is friendly fire. Just as a for instance, I know four of the nine people on the MAA Board of Directors personally. I assume that, in theory, they don’t have it in for my family. But they are definitely complicit in excluding me from participating in their activities. This tweet from the MAA is especially hard for me to swallow:
If you really believed that, you would not be holding Mathfest in Florida.
Let me end my recapitulating a point I have already made. I can hear so many of you saying “BUT NO PLACE IS PERFECT.” Right. And the constant message I get from the community is “so LGBTQ+ people can just suck it up.”