My name is Leo Chan Gaskins (he/him), and I'm a proud transgender, Asian-American marine ecologist. I realized I wanted to be a marine scientist through an internship in college where I studied sharks. Working each day with them, I got to see their individual personalities and how clever and playful they were. I realized how deeply misunderstood they were, and I wanted to give them a voice and work to strengthen policies that protect them. In hindsight, I think I identified with them, as trans people are also frequently maligned, and this connection was powerful to me. I ended up developing a passion for marine research and fell in love with the work. Outside of shark and ray conservation, my research examines the impact of large animals on salt marshes, and how we can use this information to better restore these important ecosystems.
My journey as a trans person of color in STEMM has been challenging. Marine researchers are often expected to do fieldwork in a way that is not designed inclusively, in places without access to trans healthcare, and in regions where it is not safe to be openly queer. I attended a conference where I was one of three people of color and the only trans person. I felt largely out of place and unwelcome in these environments. These factors have made me doubt at times whether I wanted to continue a career in marine science, because I wasn't sure I wanted to continue in a field where there is so little diversity and I feel unwelcome. Despite this, I firmly believe that things can change.
To work toward this, I am a visible and unapologetic trans person of color—when at my university, when I teach classes, when I do outreach with children, and when on social media as a science communicator. I mentor and empower queer and diverse students, and I'm working toward changing the system of academic publishing to be trans-inclusive. I've found a fantastic community of queer people and allies, and together, we support each other in dismantling obstacles and barriers. Slowly, we're making progress in science and increasing the visibility of LGBTQ+ people in the field. Doing so, however, requires immense courage, patience, and being highly vulnerable. I have a vision of STEMM where we welcome and honor diverse voices and create an environment for all people to thrive, and I want to spend my career realizing this vision because we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. My journey is still unfolding, but I'm proud to be able to be a role model and provide the representation I did not see growing up.