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Often, science-based museums are perceived as family affairs — something fun and educational for the kids while parents serve as chaperones. That is a perception that the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia’s premier science and technology museum, has been working to change.

About five-and-a-half years ago, the Franklin initiated its monthly Science After Hours program aimed at adults 21-plus. Remarkably successful, the event averages almost 2,000 attendees each month.

For this month’s Science After Hours, the Franklin wants to show Philadelphians that science is relevant to the LGBTQ-plus community. In observance of Stonewall’s 50th anniversary, the Franklin has pulled together a special Pride-themed Science After Hours, with programs and activities geared toward the LGBTQ community.

According to Adam Piazza, adult programs specialist at the Franklin Institute, the Pride edition of Science After Hours presented unique challenges. Traditionally, biographical information is provided about scientists whose work is relevant to the month’s programs or exhibits.

“That posed a particular problem,” admitted Piazza. “Historically, there aren’t that many scientists we know for a fact were LGBT. Given the oppressive nature of society in the past, and of the scientific community in particular, scientists in the past tended to keep their personal lives quite private. Any kind of personal scandal would likely get their work discredited.”

Nevertheless, proving true the old gay adage that “we are everywhere,” Piazza and his researchers were able to find a number of historically important scientists who are known to be LGBT.

The most tragic might be Alan Turing, an early computer scientist, who famously broke the Nazis’ infamous Enigma Code, which directly facilitated the Allied victory in World War II. Despite that achievement, Turing was brought up on sodomy charges and was forced to submit to chemical castration, which led to his eventual suicide. Turing laid the groundwork for the eventual computer revolution, which has transformed the modern world.

Perhaps the most famous LGBT scientist in history is Leonardo da Vinci, who, aside from being the most famous artist of the Renaissance, was an engineer and scientist centuries ahead of his time.

Aside from a trip through science history, the Franklin pulled together a series of programs and activities.

Timaree Schmidt — a local sexologist, writer, podcaster, professor, consultant and activist — will be giving a lecture on the current science behind our ideas about sex and gender.

“Science Can Be a Drag,” will feature three local drag performers, Tiffany Uma Mascara, Summer and Kotton, serving as “lovely assistants” to three Franklin Institute science interpreters for colorful and over-the-top experiments.

Interactive activities will focus on various rainbow-related themes. People will learn how rainbows are made, which will lead to an examination of prisms and spectrometers. Participants will be able to create various rainbow-colored mixtures that erupt from test tubes.

Some of the more social activities will include vogueing lessons conducted by members of the POSSE Project, Lamish Voltaire and Legendary Bubby Revlon. DJ Robert Drake will work the dance floor.

Several community organizations have partnered with the Franklin Institute to present Science After Hours: Pride. These include, among others, Philadelphia FIGHT, the Society of Women Engineers and GALAEI. 

 

Science After Hours: Pride presents at the Franklin Institute, 222 North 20th St., June 25, 7-10 p.m. Admission is $20 for members and $25 for non-members. For more information, call 215-448-1200 or visit fi.edu.

The historic marker outside Giovanni’s Room bookstore at the corner of 12th and Pine Streets in the heart of the Gayborhood reads, “Founded in 1973, the bookstore served as a refuge and cultural center at the onset of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights movement. The store provided resources to those working to gain legal rights for LGBT people.”

A new study released June 13 indicates lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are at higher risk for self-harm than their heterosexual peers. The study appeared in JAMA Pediatrics and addressed non-suicidal acts of self-harm — cutting, bruising and burning — in adolescents.

The study found that while “an alarming number of teens self-harm,” the disparity between heterosexual teens and their LGB peers was startling.

While 10-20 percent of heterosexual teens engaged in these dangerous behaviors, 38-53 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual teens did, the study found.

The study follows an analysis that looked at self-injury risk among more than 21,000 high school students in the state of Massachusetts between 2005 and 2017. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage and has long been legislatively progressive.

Study author Dr. Richard Liu, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Brown University said, “Rates of non-suicidal self-injury were consistently elevated among lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, compared to heterosexual peers.”

Liu found that “rates [of self-harm] have decreased among heterosexual youth from 2005 through 2017, but not among [LGB] youth over the same time period.”

Liu called this data a “striking” development, “given that the very high [lesbian, gay and bisexual] rates meant that there was greater room for potential improvement.”

Dr. Jennifer Goldenberg, a clinical social worker and trauma therapist, said, “It’s very painful to hear those numbers. These kids are so unaccepted in their families and in society — it makes me very sad that these kids are going through this painful experience of self-harm and all it entails.”

Goldenberg said youth who self-harm “are trying to find ways to cope. I’m saddened by these statistics, but not surprised by them. The macro environment is adding to depression. This is of course deeply felt by LGBT adolescents.”

Liu and Goldenberg referenced previous studies that indicate a direct link between self-harm and emotional trauma and depression.

Liu said the reasons for these high rates of self-harm are varied, but he pointed specifically to what Goldenberg had cited: “stigma and discrimination experienced by these youth.” Liu said these “contributing factors” put LGB teens at greater risk for “poor mental health outcomes, including depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

According to Goldenberg, self-harm is a “coping strategy” employed by teens and young adults and it is often mistakenly conflated with suicidal behavior while it most often is a means to address emotional pain.

“It’s not always suicidality and it often gets conflated with that,” she explained, which can send teens into the mental health system “in negative ways.”

She said, “These kids are not cutting themselves to kill themselves, they’re just trying to ground themselves to relieve their pain. It’s a symptom of tremendous internal pain. For teenagers — adolescents and young adults with no other coping strategies on board — it’s a way to make them feel better, to address the way they are being made to feel by circumstances they cannot control.”

Goldenberg said it was imperative that the causes of the self-harm be addressed and that kids who are self-harming not be further stigmatized.

Liu said the ways to reduce risk are varied. “Unfortunately there is unlikely to be a single, simple solution for this issue,” he said, but “greater focus on educating and training parents, teachers and primary care providers regarding signs of risk and available mental health resources may be an important step.”

According to JAMA Pediatrics, data from the study was taken from the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

Liu said that Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to specifically gather information on its residents’ sexual orientation.

The first year in which the state launched surveys that included a focus on non-suicidal self-injury rates was 2005, the year after same-sex marriage was legalized in the state.

There is no similar data process for gender identity, which is why transgender teens were not included in the survey nor its data.

A New Jersey charter school has volunteered to pilot the state’s upcoming LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum after a controversy last month resulting from covering up a student’s Pride mural at the request of its Catholic-church landlord.

Francisco Cortes, the interim executive director of queer Latinx social-justice nonprofit GALAEI, will receive the Emerging Leader Award at the annual Tribute to Change ceremony hosted by Bread and Roses Community Fund.

Pride isn’t just for big cities anymore.

A town in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey are exemplifying the LGBTQ-plus community’s importance by hosting first-time Pride celebrations.

The Department of Public Health, Thomas Jefferson University and pharmaceutical giant Gilead are among some of the biggest contributors to the 19th annual Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, taking place in July.

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