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By  James Chesters 28 February 2024 4 min read

Key points

  • Jayashree Srinivasan is a microbiologist working with bacterial and fungal cultures.
  • Having grown up in India, she knows queer people from ethnic minority groups often end up feeling isolated.
  • She is marching with us in Mardi Gras for the first time because she wants to show young people that safe spaces exist.

Jayashree Srinivasan knows a lot about cultures.

As a microbiologist, she’s fallen in love with her work. "There is something about growing little cultures of fungal or bacterial organisms and learning their language," she says.

"Changes in their shape, size, movement, respiration rates, and pH tell us things about how they are doing. We refer to them as 'happy cultures' or 'sad cultures'. It’s a great way to interpret what you are seeing."

Jayashree cares a great deal about how people are doing, too, and the complex effects of human cultures on queerness.

Jayashree (she/her) cares a great deal about people, and the complex effects of human cultures on identity.

You can’t be what you can’t see

Growing up in India, Jayashree didn’t know any queer people personally.

"The idea of being attracted to women didn’t cross my mind, but I knew I was NOT crushing on boys like my female peers were," she says.

But going to university pushed her out of her comfort zone, connecting her with new people, and helped her realise she was queer.

"Homosexual relationships were illegal at the time in India, and they are still not socially accepted," Jayashree says.

"I know of individuals who have been 'outed' and asked to leave university. At the time, it hung over our (mine and my then-girlfriend’s) heads like a storm cloud."

Passion and a bubble of acceptance

Jayashree works in one of our labs in Clayton, Victoria. She modestly describes herself as being a "wide-eyed Masters by research student" when she joined us four years ago. It was spectacular timing, she says, commencing a lab-based research project two weeks before the pandemic and lockdowns.

Almost half a decade later, Jayashree is re-growing fungi samples from 2000 types of soil fungi, preserved in oil so their DNA can be sequenced. Some of the samples are nearly 100 years old, so it takes skill and patience to do the work she does.

"There isn’t a lot of information available on each fungal species, so it’s an exciting challenge to identify them and ultimately select fungi that have bio-medical research applications," Jayashree says.

"Imagine we stumble upon something unique and amazing, and it has been sitting under our noses in a dusty cabinet for all these years. I have really found my happy spot with my work at CSIRO."

Jayashree also loves being an active part of the Pride@CSIRO community. The end of month Pride lunches at Clayton are a highlight, she says, because they bring together a group of individuals to create a bubble of queer acceptance and joy. It’s her own little 'happy culture'.

For a long while, Jayashree chose to refer to herself as a gay woman "because 'lesbian' was a sort of dirty word," but she embraces the word now.

"It feels nice to sit in a group where I know for sure it won’t be a surprise to anyone if I mention that I have a girlfriend," she says.

Marching in Mardi Gras

For Jayashree, marching in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for the first time in 2024 is a celebration. Both of being out at work and of life in general.

"I came out to my mum and dad when I was about 20 years old, in a counselling session with a psychologist," Jayashree says.

"I decided to tell them mainly because I was worried they would find out from someone else and it was giving me anxiety."

She found having a psychologist present was very helpful.

"10/10 would recommend if you can manage to get your family in there. It was helpful having someone in a position of authority to shoot down any misconceptions my parents had," she says.

"I am very fortunate to have parents who would love and accept me no matter what, so I always felt safe to tell them. This is absolutely not the case for most other people I know."

Jayashree says her race and culture integrate with her queerness, and she want to see that taken into consideration when advocating for a larger group of queer people.

How race and culture intersect with queerness

Jayashree is part of the Pride@CSIRO Werkgroup, which acts on behalf of the broader network for key decisions.

"I want to add my voice as a person of colour. My race and culture intersect with my queerness, and I always want to see that taken into consideration when advocating for a larger group of queer people," she says.

Jayashree knows all too well that queer people, and particularly queer people from ethnic minority groups, often end up feeling isolated from their peers and family. This isolation puts people in physically and mentally vulnerable spaces, where they’re more likely to be victims of bullying, harassment, and sexual assault, and are more likely to struggle with their mental health.

"These are things that have been a reality for me. Being queer has come with a lot doubt, shame, guilt, and internalised homophobia. A lack of community and role models makes this much worse," Jayashree says.

It warms her heart to see more people of colour having the strength to share their stories and be role models for future generations.

"I want to make myself visible on the off chance that a young person might see someone who looks like them who is happy and comfortable being out. And give them a little bit of assurance that safe spaces do exist out there," she says.

"My dream would be for a child to find someone like them to look up to. That only happens when organisations like CSIRO make their diversity visible."

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