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For LGBTQ folks, living a life of self-acceptance and societal inclusion is often a dream in and of itself. As a large portion of queer-identifying people face discrimination on a daily basis, a reality of fear and exclusion comes hand-in-hand with an internalized self-hatred. Staying closeted isn’t always a choice; sometimes it’s a necessity, and in certain industries and career paths, it is a barrier to success and upward trajectory. 

Yet, what if those barriers to living a “normal life” were lifted, even if but for a brief moment, and the potential of living an extraordinary life was actually a reality? Sam Long, a science teacher in Colorado who identifies as trans, has been asking himself that very question. After years of working in the STEM field, he has finally arrived at an answer that is positively star-bound.

Long is a high school teacher who once upon a time had a dream of becoming an astronaut. As a trans-identifying person, the exploration of self become more pressing, however, than the goal of exploring space. 
 
“When I was going to college, I majored in physiology, and at that time, none of my peers or professors knew that I was trans,” said Long. “I had made the decision to kind of be a ‘regular guy’ and go through that, and there was either a really glaring omission of any talk about LGBTQ identities, or there were some jokes made at the expense of that community.”
 
Long said that these attitudes around the subject of queer identities didn’t even register as being potentially problematic in the classroom. It was simply not discussed, and was seen as irrelevant, in the sector that was traditionally dominated by white, cisgender men. 
 
“In sciences, there’s this idea that we’re all just here to do science and science objectives, which I don’t believe it is,” he said. “It’s a system of knowledge that is influenced by the dominant culture, influenced by who’s in power all the time. There’s an idea that we will just do science and then go home and be ourselves when we leave, but everybody brings their higher selves to what they do.”
 
Once Long began teaching in Denver, he decided he wanted to not only be open and authentic to his students, but he wanted to foster an environment where that dialogue could co-exist. It didn’t need to be an either/or situation; it could be and yes/and. 
 
“I think me existing and advocating for LGBT students, that’s something useful that I can do, because I have some knowledge on what they might need,” Long said. “In my classes in general, I feel that my presence and one of the things I am to them is an example of a trans person who is happy and successful. Being out with my students has been huge and affirming for me, and I know it’s changing the lives of some of my students.”
 
Once the barriers began to lift for Long, and the significance of representation resonated within him, he began thinking some ways he could impact the STEM field even more. He revisited the childhood dream he once held, the one of becoming an astronaut.
 
Through some research, Long stumbled upon the Out Astronaut Program, a collaboration between Stardom Space and Project PoSSUM. The citizen scientist program is designed to address the under-representation of LGBTQ people in space and science and provides grants to queer folks who are pursuing professions in space-related fields.
 
With a goal of serving as the first out LGBTQ person to make the voyage to space, Long is now seeking nominations from the community in order to apply to the PoSSUM program.
 
“It’s easy to see what barriers are in place institutionally, but it’s not easy for us to see the self imposed barriers,” said Long. “Everyone sets barriers for themselves, whether it’s having a fear of being judged or a fear of trying to do something and not succeeding. That might hold them back from even considering this contest, and I want to encourage folks that are eligible to
do it. I’ve got past some of them and one of them would be this mission to become an astronaut.”
 
Deadline for submissions is August 1, and voting time for applicants will be open from August 1-September 1. Check out Long’s submission below, and click here to choose who should be the first Out Astronaut.