Space training contest opens during Pride Month for LGBTQ+ individuals

smiling person wearing a pride flag draped over their shoulders
The Pride Flag is one of the symbols of the LGBTQ+ community. (Image credit: Michele Pevide via iStock/Getty Images)

This Pride Month, why not deepen your space education and aim for the stars?

Out Astronaut's new contest invites LGBTQ+ space enthusiasts to attend an in-person astronautics course at the Florida Institute of Technology, with merch and career development support part of the experience.

Entries to the annual competition close on June 30, and you can find full entry qualifications and details here on the non-profit organization's website. 

The contest is part of Out Astronaut's ultimate goal to fly an LGBTQ+ community member as a scientist-astronaut. "We believe that communities are empowered when they are represented. Astronauts inspire our youth, represent limitless possibilities and serve as ambassadors," Out Astronaut states.

Related: Sally Ride's life partner weighs in on the future of LGBTQ+ astronauts

Significant career barriers exist for LGBTQ+ individuals pursuing careers in space and in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). NASA, like many others in the space community, is seeking to correct decades of discrimination, such as the Lavender Scare of the 1950s and 1960s against LGBTQ+ people.

For example, NASA's efforts to increase diversity date back to at least 2010, according to its Office of the Inspector General. NASA also enacted a charter for its LGBTQ Pride Alliance in May 2018. 

Only a few NASA astronauts have disclosed LGBTQ+ status — and none did so at the time of their selection. For example, representatives for the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, made a posthumous announcement after her death from cancer in 2012. Anne McClain's divorce from her wife was disclosed in the wake of a now-overturned legal dispute. Wendy Lawrence, a space shuttle astronaut, waited until her retirement from NASA to make her own announcement.

A 2021 peer-reviewed study in the journal Science surveying 21 STEM professional societies found that community professionals "were more likely to experience career limitations, harassment and professional devaluation than their non-LGBTQ peers," along with health issues.

Related: The space industry has a big, ugly sexual harassment problem

GLAAD, which describes itself as the world's largest media advocacy organization for LGBTQ+ individuals, documented 124 threats or violent incidents in a 2022 report that called the situation "unprecedented." 

STEM professionals, educators and libraries have been targeted for abuse in recent months as well. Librarians and drag story time performers across the United States are facing protests and threats of violence concerning LGBTQ+ programming and books. 

The climate for helping U.S. LGBTQ+ individuals varies not only by workplace, but at the state level. Illinois made book bans illegal in legislation signed yesterday (June 12). The State Library of Oregon is working to resist what it calls "challenges" to LGBTQ+ materials, according to NPR.

However, the White House says over a dozen other states have enacted anti-LGBTQ+ laws. In response, U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris last week jointly announced several new measures intended to protect LGBTQ+ communities, to support children and to address book bans.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: