The study, one of the first to examine differences between LGBT students and their heterosexual peers in STEM, found that LGBT students are 8 percent less likely to finish four-year majors in STEM than their peers, instead switching to non-STEM fields.
According to the study, this is caused by "a heterosexist climate that reinforces gender role stereotypes in STEM work environments" and a lack of attention towards LGBT members in STEM fields.
While the study itself primarily focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer students, its findings weren't surprising for Matt Baseheart, a USC freshman majoring in Aerospace Engineering who is transgender.
"As a transgender male in STEM, I sometimes feel like I have to hide my identity in order to be taken seriously," said Baseheart. "Since the transgender community is a topic of controversy, I feel like it's becoming a defining trait for individuals such as myself. I'm seen as a cause or a topic before I'm seen as the sum of my accomplishments."
"This study shows that there's still underlying discrimination going on for LGBT students," said Rochelle Diamond, chair of the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP), a professional society that advocates for LGBT individuals in STEM fields. "Through NOGLSTP, we wish to encourage LGBT students to be authentic and offer them the help that they all need."
The study showed that this type of mentorship can positively influence LGBT retention in STEM fields, as mentors serve as a source of support when students experience difficulties in their academic journey.
"It is important for LGBT students to find someone that they can identify with to network in their field, talking to a mentor like this could help students find a safe space to work in," said Diamond.
Kush Shanker, a USC freshman majoring in Global Health who is gay, believes that the situation could be changed with the effort of LGBT individuals.
"I may not have a model in the STEM industry, but I could start being a model for others," said Shanker. "It's important that we are not scared away because there's no one to look up to."
The study also shows that becoming members of LGBT organizations can help students persist in STEM fields. For Baseheart and Shanker, joining QuEST, an organization that supports LGBT members in STEM at the University of Southern California, helped them gain encouragement from their community.
"Being with a group like QuEST is super reassuring," said Baseheart, "Knowing that we can be professionals and be connected to our identities at the same time is something I never felt before being involved with the group. [QuEST] has helped me feel like I don't have to hide my identity anymore."
"As we see each other become successful, we inspire each other to continue what we are doing." said Shanker. "Just having a support group within Quest, it makes everything easier. It gives us hope to move forwards beyond the discrimination."
The future for LGBT members in STEM seems promising, according to both Baseheart and Shanker.
"I believe that someday soon being part of the LGBT community won't bring up any feelings of controversy, " said Baseheart. "Helping others understand this is key to fostering a positive environment for future LGBT generations in STEM."
For Shanker, seeing representation of the LGBT community in his STEM classes shows increasing acceptance for LGBT members in the industry.
"For me, I think it is surprising because the field of medicine has been heteronormative for the past couple decades," said Shanker. "It's nice that we are picking up the speed so that more of us will be going into the field."
According to Diamond, one way to improve the situation is increasing awareness of the LGBT community to the public.
NOGLSTP is hosting the Out to Innovate summit at USC in March 2019, where they hope to offer mentoring, workshops and career resources to support LGBT individuals in STEM fields.