Jack Andraka, 17
When news broke that 15-year-old Maryland high school student Jack Andraka had developed a new and improved diagnostic test for detecting pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers that was both 90 percent accurate and inexpensive, the world welcomed a new science prodigy. Andraka’s diagnostic method earned him numerous awards and mass media attention around the world, but his decision to be open about the fact that he also happens to be a gay teen gave the LGBT community something else: a new inspiration.
Andraka’s direct, nonchalant attitude about his sexuality has made him an unabashed role model for young LGBT people, as he also represents them in a field where queer people have remained virtually invisible.
“It was really alienating when I was younger,” Andraka says of the lack of queer visibility in the field of science. “I would look around and not see any other gay scientists — much less young gay scientists — at science fairs. I thought I was the only one. But then I realized, I’m first a scientist and then I’m gay.”
Andraka says he wanted to inspire others to come out. Fear of being oneself, he says, should not prevent them from following their dreams.
“I want people to know it’s all cool,” he says. “You can be gay and still be a scientist.”
As we enter into a new era, when out LGBT people are being embraced as successful athletes, actors, rock stars, politicians, and artists, Andraka is living proof that our success in any field is hindered only by the limits we set for ourselves.
“You should never hide who you truly are because of those in your field,” Andraka says. “You should always be the biggest advocate for your own ideas and dreams, because if you don’t believe in them, who will? After all, if a 15-year-old kid could come up with a new way to test for pancreatic cancer, just imagine what you could do.”