Imperial College London

Climate and environment researchers talk about their LGBT+ heroes


Image of the Earth overlayed on the LGBT+ Pride flag that incorporates the pale blue, pink, brown and black stripes representing trans and minority ethnic inclusion

Every February in the UK is LGBT+ History Month, which aims to promote visibility, equality and diversity of queer people.

In a special series to celebrate LGBT+ History Month, the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment asked LGBT+ people to introduce themselves and talk about their experiences studying and working in higher education, and specifically climate change and environmental science.

LGBT+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and the + refers to other sexual and gender identities that are often grouped together under one umbrella. People may also refer to themselves as Queer. Imperial have published a useful glossary to the terms you may hear.

Being LGBT+ at university

Science research and studying in higher education isn’t always easy for LGBT+ people, who face higher rates of bullying than their co-workers, and may not feel they can be themselves at university for fear of discrimination. They are also more likely to lack community support and the finances needed to get into higher education because of discrimination against their sexuality or gender at school or at home.

However, most universities have student and staff support networks that are run by LGBT+ people and offer advice and opportunities to connect with people who are also LGBT+ or are committed allies to the community.

LGBT+ people also face racism, misogyny and targeted abuse and violence within the LGBT+ community. Women, disabled, transgender and people from minority ethnic backgrounds in the United States, UK and Europe, are most likely to experience this. Read our interview with Lara who co-founded Kiki Bristol, a group that supports Queer, Trans and Intersex people of Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds to celebrate this intersectionality.

It is illegal in UK law to discriminate against someone based on nine ‘protected characteristics’, which includes sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, and race. The Equality Act 2010 protects the rights of individuals and advances equality of opportunity for all. The Act covers the rights of university staff and students, and prospective staff and students.

Why are pronouns important?

Many LGBT+ people and their allies state what pronouns they wish to be used when describing themselves. You may see this in their online bios or email signatures. This recognises that a person does not have to look, sound or dress a certain way to be a certain gender.

In this series of interviews, LGBT+ people talk about the difficulties they have faced studying in higher education and working in scientific research, as well as describing their most uplifting moments.

We asked them what first interested them about studying in climate change or environmental science and if they have a pet peeve about our environmental habits.

Finally, they told us about their LGBT+ heroes, living or deceased, who have inspired them in their work or their outlook on life, you can read their responses below.

For more information about the LGBT+ community at Imperial College London, see Imperial600, the LGBT+ staff network and IQ, LGBT+ student society.

Dan, a man in his 30s with tan skin, crouches down in a garden next to a courgette plantDan Hdidouan, postgraduate research student at Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy (he/him)

RuPaul Charles. Growing up in the 1990s south London in a poor council estate where the National Front still existed – being gay didn’t exist. Being gay was bad. Being gay AND non-white was punishable, the enforcers were anyone and everyone; the government didn’t care. One of the few day-time TV visible individuals that used their platform to positively express themselves and encourage (not coerce or force) others to do so was RuPaul. No one is perfect, but RuPaul dared greatly and kept on trying to bring the queer to the mainstream and now we take that for granted. He did this being a hyper-feminised black man – THAT IS NOT EASY. There are many others across the world and disciplines that have also achieved equally and perhaps greater acts worthy of admiration; but the scale of RuPaul’s work and consistency of the message from the beginning needs to be acknowledged. You have to love yourself before you can love anybody else. Amen. 

Robin Lamboll, a smiling person with white skin and long blonde hair and glasses stands in a snowy field Dr Robin Lamboll, research associate in climate science and policy at the Grantham Institute (they/he/she)

Alan Turing – as well as drafting the architecture behind how computers work and fighting fascism with maths, he came up with a reaction-diffusion model for how animals get spots and stripes that turns out to explain how hair follicles form!

Emma, a smiling woman in her 20s with white skin and curly red hair stands in front of a brick wallEmma Beirns, postgraduate research student in environmental and water resources engineering at Imperial (she/her)

Credited with being the God-mother of rock and roll, I want everyone to know about Sister Rosetta Tharpe! Besides being a pioneer of the genre, influencing Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Johnny Cash, she was also one of the first black singers to tour with white artists. And although she never publicly came out, it is widely believed that she was in a relationship with her touring mate, Marie Knight. 

She was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, 44 years after her death. It is my belief that everyone should know that one of the most white-male dominated spaces owes its existence to a black, queer woman! 

For those interested (and you should be!) here’s an article about her in the Rolling Stone.

Jazmin Scarlett, a mixed race woman with black curly hair in a bandana stands in front of a volcanoDr Jazmin Scarlett, independent researcher in historical and social volcanology (she/her)

Lady Phyll, the Co-Founder and Director of Black Pride UK, Europe’s largest celebration for African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Caribbean-heritage LGBT+ people.

Lara, a smiling Black woman in her 20s with long braided hair. She stands in lab and wears a white coatLara Lalemi, postgraduate research student in cloud chemistry at the University of Bristol (she/her)

James Baldwin wrote: “not everything that is faced can be change, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” There’s no better quote out there and from the most under-appreciated civil rights campaigner. He went into white universities and educated the students about the fallacies of racism and prejudice. We stand on the shoulders of giants like James, we have so far to go, but I think the giants probably felt the same. When you’re only at the beginning, you cannot see where you’re going, but you just start the ball rolling. 

You can even start with little things to be greener, just helping yourself, or your school or people your town. It’s okay to start small.

Paulo, a white man in his thirties with short hair sits on a log atop a mountainDr Paulo Ceppi, lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute (he/him)

Alan Turing, for his scientific achievements and his courage as an openly gay man in those days.


Simon Levey

Simon Levey
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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