The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia aims to raise awareness of the widespread discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) people.
Eurodoc’s Equality Working Group focuses on supporting European Early Career Researchers (ECRs) that experience exclusion and discrimination related to “diversity”. Crucially, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression is often linked to violence, isolation and, when people chose to hide their sexual identity to avoid exclusion, invisibility. Such issues in the context of the workplace can heavily impact researchers’ productivity, their mental wellbeing and, eventually, push them out of universities.
On this day, we want to bring attention to the condition of sexual and gender communities within the European ECR community, by exploring the situation in different geographical contexts and personal experiences.
In this article, we asked three ECRs to tell us what are the biggest challenges concerning equality for LGBTQIA researchers in their countries, and to share some best practices.
LUCA: Italy lacks a specific legislation dealing with discrimination against LGBTQIA university researchers, although there are some regulations regarding “mobbing”  and discrimination in public administration – which also includes universities.
In this framework, each university must designate a guarantee committee (‘CUG’) that includes representatives of students, ECRs, researchers and professors. This committee has the right to advance proposals and to advise the university board on matters of gender equality, gender neutrality and discrimination based upon sexual orientation.
An even more important role in assuring the quality of university life is played by several associations which – like Association of PhD candidates and PhD in Italy, the Association of PhD Candidates and ECRs in Italy - represent the interests of each member of the very same academic categories represented in the CUG.
ADI has been active for years in pushing the government to review national legislation against discrimination, and claiming guarantees for colleagues also on the matter of gender equality. ADI directly supports ECRs, helping them to deal with such discrimination, offering legal support or psychological counseling.
 In Italian legislation, “mobbing” is a type of offence carried out in the workplace with the aim of pushing workers to voluntarily resign their job. “Mobbing” can be identified when workers are regularly subjected to exclusionary behaviour and harassing actions, as to disqualify them in front of their colleagues or to assign regularly unpleasant tasks to the same worker.
MARIANNA: First of all, it’s quite difficult for me to define what “my country” is, because as many ECRs I frequently move through different countries. I am a Polish citizen who finished doctoral studies in Hungary, and has since held research and teaching positions in Austria, Czechia, and, most recently, in Germany. This high mobility has been probably the biggest challenge for me personally, because adapting to different legal and social environments as an openly queer person is hard. For the past two years, I’ve been working in a research institute in Berlin where I have encountered a robust and supportive equality infrastructure. Apart from official bodies such as the Equal Opportunities Officer present at the level of both the Max Planck Society (MPS) and my institute, there is an association for postdoctoral researchers PostdocNet with a special working group on Equality and Diversity. Doctoral candidates are represented within the Max Planck PhDnet, which also has an active Equal Opportunities Group. Additionally, as LGBTQIA members of the MPS, we have an informal network called MPQueer that has been actively advocating for making MPS a more queer-inclusive workplace, for example, by officially adopting gender-neutral language. Overall, German trade unions, especially those dedicated to education and science workers, support equal rights for LGBTQIA employees.
MACIEJ (fictitious name): The current situation of LGBTQIA ECRs in Poland, seen from abroad, doesn’t look very promising. According to the newest survey of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, over 70% of LGBTQIA respondents in Ireland, Malta and Finland say that intolerance has fallen, whilst in Poland 68% say it has risen.
However, my personal situation as being an ECR in a public university in Warsaw is better and more stable than the results of the survey.
In fact, my university, together with 142 other Polish organizations, endorsed The European Charter & Code for Researchers, and the internal law of my university explicitly forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Despite worrisome surveys and statistics, the majority of Polish LGBTQIA people work hard and enjoy normal lives, with the general support of society. It is a sign that positive change in Poland is closer than ever.
In 2019, Eurodoc participated in a High level Conference on Advancing LGBTQIA equality in the EU. There, we voiced concerns about the situation of LGBTQIA ECRs, whose mobility opportunities are shrinking due to growing hostility in various countries, with some even announcing LGBT-free zones.
Even though ECRs who belong to sexual and gender communities feel that their situation is improving (with a growing number of workplaces becoming more inclusive) a recent survey indicates that one third of LGBTQIA ECRs have considered leaving their jobs.
Transgender and non-binary people are the most harassed (32%) and discriminated against (36%) within the LGBTQIA community, experiencing bullying, prejudice, exclusionary behaviour and physical violence in the workplace. However, the situation of LGBTQIA people across Europe is diverse and we also see numerous good practices that our interviewees mentioned.
From these, we can highlight the importance of the institutions’ leaderships, which have a paramount role given that they can enforce regulations to prevent and sanction abuse. What is also encouraging is the fact that many workplaces, primarily universities, and their staff seem to be much more supportive for the LGBTQIA community than the worrying political narratives suggest.
Formal and informal LGBTQIA university networks, and ECR associations by their side, can advocate for equity policies and offer a space to share common difficulties, imagine change, and fight for it.
If you want to share your experience with us, and you want to actively contribute to our work against discrimination within academia, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luca Dell’Atti is Teacher Assistant at the Faculty of Law of the University of Bari, where he concluded his PhD in Constitutional Law in March 2019. He authored a book and several articles dealing with federalism, regionalism and inter-governmental relations. He is a lawyer and member of the National Board of ADI - Associazione Dottorandi e Dottori di Ricerca in Italia.
Marianna Szczygielska is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Germany. She has earned her doctoral degree in Comparative Gender Studies at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.
Maciej (anonymised) is a 34-year old doctoral candidate in Social Sciences from Warsaw, Poland.