Why We Formed a Human Pride Flag in Antarctica

I must have packed and repacked my luggage for Antarctica at least five times. I had all the items I needed, from base layers to chocolate.

But when unpacking on the ship, I noticed a vital item was missing — my rainbow pride flag.

This was a problem because I was on my way to Antarctica with Homeward Bound, a leadership program for women in STEMM. I was one of 99 women from all across the world, of different ages and career paths, joining together because our world needs a new type of leadership to tackle the issue of our changing climate. We each have a fire in our belly to make a positive impact on the world and to share our message.

Other participants had brought their national flags, flags from local schools, and flags from sponsors to fly in Antarctica. I had been excited about flying the pride flag to raise awareness about the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in STEMM and in leadership, but it seemed as though that wasn’t going to be possible.

I was very disappointed. How would I show my pride?

I wanted to share and be open about my sexuality. I wanted to be an advocate for inclusion and show others that Queer people are a valuable part of STEMM leadership. Having a pride flag was a key part of that message.

We need to talk about the inclusion of lesbian and bisexual women, trans women, non binary people and any other queer people who identify as or with women in the conversations we are having about women in STEMM. We are all facing similar struggles in a field largely dominated by men.

We need to talk about the inclusion of lesbian and bisexual women, trans women, non binary people and any other queer people who identify as or with women in the conversations we are having about women in STEMM.

If we want to have the most effective advocacy for women in STEMM we need to be intersectional and inclusive. My place in Homeward Bound was my chance to stand up for this.

So, as 99 STEMM women in Antarctica, we had to make this happen, even though I didn’t have my pride flag with me.

We came to the idea of creating a human pride flag.

To do this we would need the other participants to wear a shirt or jacket that was a specific color of the rainbow. And we would need an equal-ish number of people per color. So we put the call out for volunteers.

I was overwhelmed by the response.

Nearly everyone signed up to participate, and those who didn’t have the right color clothing borrowed from others. Together with the ship’s expedition team who also joined in, we managed to get every color filled!

We gathered on the top deck, forming bright stripes of color against the Antarctic grey. Freezing winds hit us while the waves tossed us around the ship, but we all just laughed and joined together for stability. 

It was such a joyful moment knowing that these women in STEMM wanted to include me in their community. All of us together, in Antarctica, supporting and celebrating the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people — as a valuable part of Homeward Bound, of global leadership, and STEMM.

Photo by Will Rogan.

Jeanette McConnell
Jeanette McConnell

Dr. Jeanette McConnell is the Director of Education, Outreach & Diversity at the NSF Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment. She is a champion for fun STEM education, an advocate for the environment, and is committed to the inclusion of diversity within the STEM community. This year she was selected for Homeward Bound, a global leadership initiative, set against the backdrop of Antarctica, which aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape our planet.

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