On Saturday, 3 August, a group of students from the Karolinska Institutet (KI) took part in this year's Pride Parade in Stockholm, proudly waving the flag of the research institution. The students' participation in the march won KI’s blessing, at the request of Queerolinska, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student association at KI, in what is, perhaps, the first official endorsement by a research institution of an initiative of this kind.
Science Careers talked to Riccardo Guidi, a Ph.D. student at KI, in the department of cell and molecular biology, and co-founder of Queerolinska, about the Pride Parade and what it meant for lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered (LGBT) students.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Q: How many participants from KI joined the parade?
R. G.: About 50 people joined the march with Queerolinska, all under KI flags.
Q: Did all of the KI participants also belong to Queerolinska?
R. G.: Plenty of international students joined us. We were a community of heterosexual, homosexual, or queers there to support the LGBT community. Many people congratulated us for bringing KI to the parade. In the end, very few were officially affiliated with Queerolinska.
Q: What was it like taking part in the parade? How did public endorsement by KI make you feel?
R. G.: Marching through the town to celebrate the best things you’ve got (pride for your sexuality and pride for your job in science)—it's very rewarding. KI is an incredibly well-known school, in Sweden and all over the world. The public was enthusiastic when they saw us marching. "If KI decided to join this cause of human rights, this must be a good cause," is what was in people’s mind.
Q: What take-home messages would you like to convey to other LGBT scientists?
R. G.: Start the movement in your own university! The silence of most academies in the big LGBT debate is alarming, as these institutions are the best place to trigger intelligent debates and educate citizens. With gestures like this one, we can educate people also about queers and human rights, along with medical science.
I also hope they will find the opportunity to come out of the closet within their profession, among their colleagues if they haven't done it yet. "KI is on my side", I kept repeating to myself after we obtained the OK for the parade. "I cannot be wrong."
Q: What do you hope will be the impact of your initiative at KI, and more broadly?
R. G.: KI is a world respected medical institute. I hope that its gesture in participating with the Pride march will encourage more academies in the world to do the same, warning future scientists, doctors, and citizens of the urgency of defending human rights, which are still missing in the greatest part of the world.
Additionally, recently Queerolinska has been gathering KI professors’ support. The head of Gender Medicine Program in Karolinska has just awarded us with a budget to organize a symposium on the "science of gender" and the biology of brain development from the sexual perspective.
We hope that starting technical debates on such issues will contribute to the defeat of the fear of homosexuality, overthrowing the gut feeling that even highly-educated people have toward the LGBT culture. Science can help us with that.