Sunday, August 24, 2014

QUEER QUOTE: Science Publishes Response To Image Of Transgender Sex Workers

A few weeks ago the most prestigious science journal in the world, Science, published a special issue with numerous articles about HIV/AIDS in conjunction with the 20th International AIDS Conference being held in Melbourne, Australia. The July 11th issue used a cover of "transgender sex workers in Jakarta, Indonesia" although none of the articles in the issue had anything to do with this community.

The National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals NOGLSTP) wrote a letter to the editor ebuking Science for the ill-advised cover, which they published in the August 15 issue and Dr. Marcia McNutt (Science's first female editor in its 200-plus year history) responded.

Here is the text of Shelley Diamond's letter to the editor, which is today's Queer Quote:

I am Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP) that encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) people in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. On behalf of NOGLSTP, an AAAS affiliate since 1994, I wish to register our indignation with the 11 July cover of Science showing transgender sex workers from Jakarta. The cover, a misguided attempt to pique interest in reading the special section on HIV/AIDS, has provoked many readers, including many members of our organization, to express their dismay at Science's lack of decorum and lack of sensitivity to a much maligned and misunderstood community. The scant attention the magazine paid to the transgender sex worker community makes these omissions all the more important. With one inappropriate picture, you have managed to stereotype all transgender women as sex workers and vectors of disease, as well as hyper-sexualize women of color in general. NOGLSTP applauds the articles presented in this issue, but we question why the cover explicitly shows transgender sex workers when there is no actual content in the articles about HIV prevention, care, or treatment efforts in these transgender communities. 
To avoid the kind of hurtful misunderstanding and atmosphere of disrespect that has been generated by this dehumanizing and insensitive decision, NOGLSTP leadership would have been happy to facilitate discussion between science and engineering leaders in the trans community and the editorial staff of Science regarding appropriate content as it relates to transgender sex workers and the struggles they face, of which HIV infection is but one. 
This incident should be used as a teachable moment to correct the prejudices of those who are insufficiently familiar with LGBTQ communities and their concerns. We exist in all cultures, ethnicities, and walks of life. We are proud scientists, engineers, mathematicians, doctors, and technologists who are part of the Science readership. The cover photo is unworthy of Science and AAAS. The LGBTQ communities, including in particular the trans community in this instance, deserve more respect than you have offered. The ethic of science demands that we regard all minds and people equally. 
Prejudice has no place in our endeavors. 
Rochelle DiamondChair, NOGLSTP Board of Directors, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA.E-mail:
And the response from the editor of Science, apologizing for using the image:
We deeply regret the harm done by the ill-considered choice of cover. Dr. Diamond, in her letter, has made constructive suggestions to help our organization prevent further misunderstandings with the LGBTQ communities, become more sensitive to their issues, and repair damaged relations. We are already in discussions on how to follow up on those recommendations. Many thanks to other leaders in the LGBTQ and other communities who have also graciously stepped forward with offers of help. 
Marcia McNuttEditor-in-Chief
I am a big fan of NOGLSTP (full disclosure: they gave me an award in 2011) and am glad to see that discussion about the image used in Science and an ackowledgement i print that LGBTQ people are part of the readership of Science. I personally was not offended by Science magazine's use of the photo to promote its special issue on AIDS but I can see how many people could have been offended and do agree that it was an "ill-considered choice."

It will be interesting to see how Dr. McNutt follows up with her letter. Perhaps some coverage of NOGLSTP's Out to Innovate summit in November 2014 or at the very least some discussion of the role of LGBTQ people in science would seem like reasonable actions.

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