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  WINDY CITY TIMES

LGBTQ-focused oSTEM holds seventh annual conference
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2017-12-14

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Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Inc. ( oSTEM ) held its seventh annual conference, "Finding Unity in Community," Nov. 16-19 at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare. This was the second time the conference has been held in Chicago.

oSTEM is, according to its website, "a professional society focused on LGBTQ people in the STEM community. With more than 75 student chapters at colleges/universities and professional chapters in cities across the United States and abroad, oSTEM is the largest chapter-based organization focused on LGBTQ people in STEM."

Among the many things oSTEM envisions is inclusive, safe and supportive school and work environments that celebrate LGBTQ people's diversity and unique contributions and that nurtures innovation, leadership and advocacy. oSTEM is the first LGBTQ inclusive organization of its kind.

oSTEM began after an IBM sponsored focus group of students met at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters during the organization's Out for Work conference. The discussion they had formed the basis of oSTEM's creation.

The Nov. 18 morning address featured remarks by oSTEM President and CEO Cortland Russell. He told the approximately 700 people in attendance that oSTEM started as an organization for students, however, it has expanded to include professionals. Russell noted that in the coming year the organization will be adding a board of directors and a dues structure with 100 percent of the money going back to the chapters.

A number of workshops took place after the address, and the following day, including—Ending Police Violence with Artificial Intelligence and Bi+ Visibility.

During the Ending Police Violence with Artificial Intelligence workshop, Brandon Anderson spoke about the genesis of Raheem ( he is the founder and CEO )—a Facebook Messenger chatbot for anonymously reporting both good and bad experiences with the police. These experiences are then shared online in real-time with everyone.

Currently, the chatbot is being piloted in the California cities of San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland. Anderson said he is looking to expand Raheem ( raheem.ai/ ) to other cities with Chicago and Washington D.C. at the top of that list. He noted that Raheem was the first non-profit organization to receive funding from the Obama Foundation.

Anderson explained his backstory, including the fact that he was homeless when he was 15. Anderson noted that in 2007, his then-partner ( a Black man ) was shot and killed by an Oklahoma City police officer during a routine traffic stop—this was the catalyst for him to start "Raheem," which means having compassion and mercy.

Among the statistics Anderson shared was there are 63 million police interactions per year nationwide. He said the system police use to collect data is broken and this has been highlighted in a Human Rights Watch ( HRW ) study of 14 precincts across the country. Anderson explained that HRW's study showed that the process is difficult and intimidating for people, including requiring an in-person visit to the police station during business hours and within six months of the interaction to file a complaint. He said that, according to the Department of Justice, 93 percent of people who experience police violence do not report it ever.

"That is a problem," said Anderson, "We cannot fix what we cannot see. I have one mission which is to increase police transparency and accountability and build a world free of police violence."

Anderson said he hopes Raheem will help change police policies, behaviors and culture. He noted that Raheem is still in its infancy and he is open to suggestions from others to make it more intuitive and easier to use.

Leah Yoemans ( Twin-Cities, Minnesota STEM specialist elementary school teacher and Bisexual Organizing Project co-chair ), Deanna Hence ( University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Atmospheric Sciences assistant professor ) and Stephanie Huard ( California Institute of Technology undergraduate researcher ) spoke about Bi+ Visibility as it pertains to all aspects of one's life.

Yoemans explained that in terms of non-profit and research grants it is important to check the specific box on the form regarding one's sexual orientation and/or gender identity because if the generic other box is checked then funding might not be approved.

Hence said there is a lot of diversity among the bi+ population. She noted that one of the reasons why bisexual people do not come out is because the process is, at times, forced and uncomfortable.

Huard noted that at first she identified as queer but over time that changed to bisexual due to a variety of factors. She said one way that helps, in terms of coming out to others, is mentioning her involvement with oSTEM.

All of the speakers emphasized the need for more education about bi+ people so stereotypes and misconceptions lessen and disappear over time. They also noted the problem of bi-erasure in all aspects of life and how damaging that is.

See www.ostem.org/ for more information .


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