Inclusion of LGBTQ+ Scholars in Social and Personality Psychology: Ongoing Efforts and Future Challenges
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, and other sexual and gender minority (LGBTQ+) people face barriers to inclusion in academia. In recognition of Pride Month, SPSP has invited us, as organizers of LGBTQ+ initiatives within SPSP, to reflect on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in social–personality psychology.
Barriers Faced by LGBTQ+ People in Social–Personality Psychology
LGBTQ+ social–personality psychologists face many of the same challenges that LGBTQ+ people face more broadly. After decades of touch-and-go progress, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and violence are on the rise in the United States and throughout the world. In the United States alone, over 320 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures in 2022 so far, more than any recent year. LGBTQ+ individuals continue to face targeted harassment and violence based solely on their gender identity or sexual orientation. For example, in 2021 at least 375 transgender and gender diverse (TGD) individuals were murdered worldwide due to their gender identity or expression, including at least 45 TGD individuals in the United States. Meanwhile, members of both sexual and gender minority groups continued to face high rates of hate crimes both in the United States and the world more generally. Moreover, LGBTQ+ individuals face broad, systematic bias that contributes to, among other things, poorer health, employment disparities, and unequal access to housing and education. Even at SPSP events specifically, LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have experienced ambiguous instances of exclusion.
It is against this troubling backdrop that LGBTQ+ social–personality psychologists seek to find their place within their academic community. In some ways, the LGBTQ+ community has made great strides towards representation within the field of social–personality psychology. As of 2020, more than 15% of SPSP members identified with a non-heterosexual sexual orientation, an increase from 12% in the year before. Gender minority groups are less well represented; only around 1% of SPSP members identified with a non-cisgender gender identity in 2020. The growing diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity is primarily concentrated among early career scholars, particularly for gender minority scholars: Only 0.5% of senior members of SPSP reported a gender minority identity. This lack of senior representation means that few LGBTQ+ members hold positions of power in academia or can serve as role models for their earlier-career counterparts.
Beyond representation, LGBTQ+ social and personality psychologists face structural hurdles at every stage of their academic career. From attending graduate school to pursuing an academic job, the near requirement of making long-distance moves for their careers separates LGBTQ+ academics from their communities and support networks. The remote locations of many colleges and universities, some far from established LGBTQ+ communities, mean that many LGBTQ+ scholars are either mired in isolation or pushed out of academia for not wanting to be. For those who decide to stay in academia, the onus of finding a supportive and inclusive community often falls on their own shoulders, adding to the stress that already comes with navigating academic environments. Even when LGBTQ+ scholars do persist and surround themselves with social support, they might still confront a host of challenges that disproportionately plague LGBTQ+ professionals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, such as harassment, professional devaluation and exclusion, less access to career opportunities and resources, and various health and wellness issues. These structural and interpersonal issues faced by LGBTQ+ people in social–personality psychology can pose threats to their retention and make advocacy for them crucial at SPSP and beyond.
How SPSP is Addressing Barriers Faced by LGBTQ+ People in Social–Personality Psychology
Advocacy for LGBTQ+ members at SPSP has a long history. Over 20 years ago, Lisa Aspinwall and Lisa Diamond founded the GLBT Alliance in Social and Personality Psychology (GASP), an SPSP affiliate. GASP hosts a lunch at SPSP's annual convention aimed at providing mentoring to LGBTQ+ students. This initiative has been a crucial step towards leveling the playing field for early career LGBTQ+ scholars by connecting them with mentorship. Because many of the faculty mentors are LGBTQ+ themselves, this initiative has also gone a long way towards increasing the visibility of senior role models for early career LGBTQ+ scholars.
More recently, SPSP provided funding for the "Here and Queer" initiative, which seeks to provide a new avenue for community-building among LGBTQ+ students and early career social-personality psychologists. The initiative launched at SPSP's 2022 convention with a successful virtual and in-person social networking event and aims at expanding its scope of offerings to continue building social connections between LGBTQ+ social–personality psychologists year-round.
SPSP's additional diversity initiatives (e.g., diversity graduate and undergraduate travel and registration awards, the SPSP climate survey, etc.) are also inclusive of sexual and gender minority scholars and thus contribute to their inclusion beyond the LGBTQ+-specific initiatives.
Looking Forward: What More Can Be Done?
Despite current progress, SPSP can and should do more to advocate for LGBTQ+ social–personality psychologists, particularly those who have been traditionally neglected by queer activism. Queer advocacy often presumes and caters to a "default" LGBTQ+ person who is cisgender, White, able-bodied, and American. Indeed, many historical and contemporary queer initiatives have not merely overlooked members of the LGBTQ+ community who do not fit this default, but actively excluded and marginalized them. It is imperative that SPSP and its leaders ensure that advocacy efforts for its LGBTQ+ members decenter Whiteness, support their intersectional identities, and honor their diverse lived experiences.
Making the support for LGBTQ+ SPSP members more inclusive also means taking seriously the challenges that often accompany queer activism. For example, although creating queer spaces—such as GASP luncheons and Here and Queer socials—allows for some members of the LGBTQ+ community to feel safe and supported, such spaces might do little for those members of the community who are not "out" (i.e., those who conceal their LGBTQ+ identities). Being in such spaces puts attendees at risk of identification and makes conspicuous a set of identities for which people continue to face persecution, even though individuals who are not "out" or who are questioning their identities could potentially benefit most from having a supportive community. In other words, visibility is a double-edged sword and can have divergent effects for LGBTQ+ SPSP members, and future initiatives should weigh issues like this moving forward. Beyond this, it is vital that advocacy efforts extend beyond the confines of SPSP and into the world around us; as Lewin wrote, "research that produces nothing but books will not suffice."
As a collective of scholars of social and personality psychology, our society is uniquely positioned to build not only an academic community, but a society that is equitable, supportive, and inclusive of all LGBTQ+ scholars. Social and personality psychologists should thus harness our collective expertise and get to work.
Joel Le Forestier is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, where he studies intergroup relations and quantitative methods. He specializes in how members of stigmatized groups navigate intergroup contexts, prejudice and prejudice reduction, and social-psychological interventions.
Ryan Lei is an assistant professor of psychology at Haverford College. He takes an intersectional approach in understanding how children develop and use social categories.
Catherine Wall is a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University where she takes an intersectional approach to understanding and, importantly, ameliorating the downstream health consequences of bias and discrimination.
Y. Andre Wang is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on understanding how people connect abstract ideas to concrete experiences in the domains of attitudes and interpersonal processes.