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Out and visible

Memorial professor first gay president of Canadian Math Society

Campus and Community

By Kelly Foss

When Dr. David Pike stepped into the Henrietta Harvey building in June, he saw a sign that read “Everyone is welcome here” on a rainbow Pride flag.

“It stopped me in my tracks,” he said. “It shouldn’t have, but it did. I’ve been working in this university for over 20 years and it was the first time I’ve seen a message like that in my building, telling me I am welcome here.”

The signs were put up throughout the Faculty of Science to recognize Pride Month.

That same week, Dr. Pike, a University Research Professor with the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, became the first (known) openly gay president of the Canadian Mathematical Society (CMS).

Text reading: Everyone is welcome here over the Pride flag colours and a few math symbols.
The sign that met Dr. Pike when he entered the Henrietta Harvey building, including some mathematical symbols.

He officially took up the mantle at the society’s summer meeting held June 3-6 on Memorial University’s St. John’s campus.

“That was a nice coincidence, because Memorial only hosts the summer meeting every 10 years, or so. It had been planned for a few years to take place in St. John’s, but it was also the first in-person conference since before the pandemic.”

The road to Memorial

The CMS has more than 1,000 members and was founded in 1945, celebrating its 75th anniversary just a few years ago.

The non-profit learned society represents mathematics at the national level with a goal of promoting and advancing the discovery, learning and application of mathematics.

In fact, it was an ad in the CMS Notes that led Dr. Pike to Memorial in 1998.

A selfie of a man in a forest with leaves on the ground.
Dr. Pike feels it’s important to be out and visible as the new CMS president.
Photo: Submitted

Over the years he’s served the organization in numerous roles, including on the board of directors and as vice-president representing the Atlantic provinces. One year ago, he was elected president.

Encourage and empower

Dr. Pike feels it’s important for him to be out and visible as the CMS president.

“Being in that kind of a position and not being visible – its incompatible, in my opinion,” he said. “Historically, I have not tended to be especially visible. I’ve been open and haven’t hidden that I’m gay, but in a math classroom, how do you come out to your students? It’s not something that happens naturally.

“However, for the last few years, I’ve been teaching from my basement and I’ve had a Pride flag hanging in the background,” he added. “I think it’s important for students to see that.”

He hopes his achievements will encourage and empower others, despite the negative attitudes that still persist.

“Thankfully the attitude that gays can’t do math, or gays can’t do science, is in the minority,” said Dr. Pike. “But it is still out there. Being seen helps to dispel those myths. I want to live my life and hopefully lead by example.”

Last year he gave a presentation to Queer Atlantic Canadian STEM and he’s been invited to be a panellist at the Field’s Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences LGBTQ+ Math Day in November.

Odds and Ends

In his spare time, he curls in and sits on the board of directors for Odds and Ends Curling, a St. John’s LGBTQ+ curling association and league.

“In September we also host our annual bonspiel and this year we expect to have about 30 teams, with more than half coming from the mainland to participate. It’s going to be quite the event.”

The league also gives him a unique opportunity to bring his math skills to the table.

“Scheduling the games for the bonspiel is actually an application of the kind of math I do,” he said. “I have to set it up so each team plays the same number of other teams and not consecutively. So, you need to get all of these constraints to work out. It’s basically a graph decomposition problem with extra twists.”

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