By Timothy Vick

The Carleton Network For Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Geology and Natural History Alums was six years old and had 29 members in 1996 when this article appeared in the Carleton Geology Newsletter. But in 1990 when the network was organized we viewed it as a good idea but something of an experiment.

Whereas the Geology Department and the college had extended significant support resources to students who were members of racial and ethnic minorities, we were not reaching out nearly as much to assist the significant but invisible minority of our students who are LGBT. It turns out we have and always have had LGBT students, but for many years we did not realize it.

LGBT people are perceived as and treated as second class citizens in many arenas. It is worthwhile and appropriate for our department to offer LGBT students at least some of the types of support extended to the other minorities. Naturally, we regard all of our graduates as highly qualified, first class people. We are distressed to see some of them treated as second class.

The network is a non-official, voluntary group of people. It maintains a membership list which is confidential and not circulated among departmental faculty and staff. Confidentiality is extremely important because many network members have not yet “come out” to all of the faculty or other people in the Geology Department.

The network publishes a newsletter once or twice a year, and it provides recognition of our LGBT community members and affirmation of the Geology Department’s regard for them. The network’s goals include reducing isolation among alums and students and helping to provide a more open, accepting and informative environment on campus for students in geology and related fields. (People interested in joining the network should contact Marilyn Yohe ’88, Dan Spencer ’79 or Tim Vick.)

To assess the impact that the network has had during its first six years of life we circulated some questions about the importance of the network and its appropriateness for a science department among the members of the network. Below are excerpts from the members’ responses.

What is the importance of the Geology LGBT Network to you?

“I think its mere existence and support from the Geology Department speaks VOLUMES about the Geology Department. It’s one of the things that makes Carleton distinctive.”

“It was within the context of the Geology Department and its majors that I first felt comfortable coming out; I knew I was not merely making a political statement, and I would not be shunned. In the department people cared for others not only because of their geologic abilities, but also for their personal qualities.”

“I’m glad it exists and that I knew it existed. When I came out at [a high profile California graduate school] I’m glad I knew of a supportive group of people. After dealing with this hostile department at the university, receiving the network newsletter from supportive Carleton friends really helped… The department [at the California university] is a homophobic anachronism. It is sad and depressing to have to identify with [this department] sometimes.”

“It is more for students than [after graduation]. Coming out is hard for most people, and being out is hard at some time or another for all of us. Having a network in place lets students know that they are not the only ones, and indeed, there are lots of us. Isolation is one of the hardest things I have faced.”

“Letting people know they are not alone offers a sense of community.”

“We who are usually defined by popular stereotype get to define ourselves” within the network.

“My experiences in high school were so awful that I wrapped myself up in a cute little heterosexual package when I shipped myself off to Carleton. But I wear the label ‘Lesbian’ now and I wear it with pride!”

“As a current Carleton student and member of the network, it is easy for me to take for granted this group and its significance. But the process of applying to graduate programs recently has made me seriously aware of the reality of living and working in less supportive or even hostile environments.”

What functions should the LGBT network serve? What activities should it engage in?

“The network exists now to provide a background of people and communication that acts mostly as an emotional cushion. Members know that there are others both at Carleton and elsewhere who are part of this group and who are willing to be contacted about these issues should the need arise.”

“A group like this has a wide range of possibilities in terms of its size, level of community action, visibility, etc. but the most important aspect by far is simply its existence.”

All of the respondents said they appreciate getting the newsletter, even though usually it is a simple document rather than a long elaborate one. Some members commented that personal statements and even creative pieces of prose or poetry would be interesting and valuable.

Do you feel it is appropriate for a department of geology to be encouraging the existence of an LGBT group within its majors and alums?

“YES!! Geology still wallows in the ‘good old boy’ mentality in too many places. We need a network; we need people like Clyde Wahrhaftig to come out; we need to let people know that we are good scientists and good people too. Homophobia rears its ugly head in the field and in the lab.” [The late Clyde Wahrhaftig was a well known geomorphologist at the USGS and UC-Berkeley who came out as a gay man when he received the Outstanding Career Award from the Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division of the Geological Society of America.]

“Being LGBT in the sciences is most definitely a vocational issue relevant to the study and preparation in geology, just as being a woman in the sciences has been. Part of a responsible education is giving students not only the scientific technical training they need, but also the savvy and survival skills to thrive in the discipline- not easy for any LGBT person in any field, but especially not easy in a traditionally ‘macho’ field like geology. Knowing there are others out there who have made it can be enormously helpful to students and alums alike. It is also beneficial preparation for nongay students who will confront issues of diversity in the workplace after Carleton.”

“It is appropriate. Who knows better than us what it is like to be queer and part of the geology or natural history communities? Those who would say it is outside our area of responsibility must understand that without the existence of such a support group, some people’s experience may be a lot harder to deal with.”

“The department and school benefit from the network 100%, whether they realize it or not.”