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Thursday, July 5, 2018 - 12:00am

#LGBTSTEMday Profile: Tyler Kelly

In celebration of the first International Day of LGBT+ people in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), we are profiling scientists from the LGBT+ community across the province. Have your own of story? Share it with us in the comments below.

What is your name? 
Tyler T. Kelly    

How do you identify? 
I identify as a gay cis man, though I often prefer the term queer.

What is your preferred pronoun? 

Where did you go to school/university? What did you study?
I got my Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife biology, with an emphasis on both terrestrial and aquatic systems, from the University of Montana.

Where do you work now? What is your job title? 
Currently, I am a Master’s student at Simon Fraser University, in the Department of Biological Sciences.  

What is your field of expertise? What kind of research/work do you do? 
My area of expertise is ecology and evolution, focusing on community and pollination ecology. Specifically, I study wildflowers and pollinators within oak savanna ecosystems to understand more about how community composition influences the complex web of interactions between species.

What sparked your interest in science or engineering?
Growing up, I lived next to a fully functioning taxidermy, which allowed me to learn about wildlife in a very unique and intimate way. Basically, I think my passion for wildlife and conservation was inspired by having my own personal natural history museum next door. This passion grew as I got older and I realized that I could continue learning about wildlife by becoming an ecologist. So, I came to science through the very arcane world of taxidermy and by developing a connection to the natural world at a young age. 

How has coming out effected your school/work life or career? 
My interest in ecology certainly diminished after I came out, because I found it difficult to balance the seemingly contradictory worlds of ecology and queer identity. Also, being from a very conservative place, I worried about how being queer would affect my ability to be a scientist. I was quite nervous about finding an academic advisor and community who would take me seriously as a scientist. As a result, I was very cautious about where I wanted to go to school and who I wanted to study with. I avoided looking at schools in rural or conservative places, because I knew it would be hard to be out in those environments, despite the fact that those places might have made my work easier by being closer to natural areas. Now, I happily balance my professional and social worlds and just live my life, rather than the stereotypes of my identities. 

Do you feel supported in school or at work?
Coming from Montana, I was quite shocked at how accepting SFU and the city of Vancouver are. For the first time in my life, I feel like I do not stand apart from my peers because of my queerness. So yes, I do feel very supported and can focus on my research without worrying about standing out.

Did you have role models in the LGBTQ2S+ community who are scientists or engineers? 
I came out at 21, about half way through my undergraduate degree. At that time, I didn’t know any queer people. Without a mentor or role model that I could ask for help, it was difficult to figure out how to find queer friends or really know what it meant to be gay. I remember wanting so badly to know if someone was like me, someone who was established and visible.

How important do you feel is it to have a LGBTQ2S+ role model or mentor? 
I think I would’ve loved to have seen biologists or outdoor enthusiasts who were out and functioning soundly and happily. I do think queer people in ecology, in many places, struggle because the “outdoorsy” world can feel very oppressive as a queer person. I believe that visibility would have really helped me understand sooner what being queer meant and how to balance my identities. 

Looking back, what advice would you give your high school self? 
I would advise myself to “stop trying to prove yourself." It’s unnecessary and you will have a much easier time finding your mark if you stop trying to fit in and impress others. And, I think something that I really wish I had taken to heart a long time ago is to always exhibit empathy, not just for others, but also for yourself. 

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