Archive for the LGBT Category

The Matter of Enoch Burke

Posted in LGBT, Politics with tags , , on September 8, 2022 by telescoper

Not surprisingly, the right-wing press is attempting to portray the intransigent bigotry of the teacher Enoch Burke as some kind of heroic stand against “woke ideology”. I’ve lost track of the number of articles that claim that Mr Burke has been sent to prison for “refusing to use the pronoun they” or for his religious beliefs; he is some sort of Evangelical Christian with extreme political views on a range of subjects as do the other members of his family.

The facts of the matter are that Mr Burke was suspended (on full pay) pending a disciplinary hearing following a confrontation with his school’s principal. He was instructed not to attend the school during the disciplinary process (which is quite normal). Burke refused to comply so the school went to court to get a court order to keep him off the premises. He ignored the injunction so was arrested for contempt of court. He was then sent to Mountjoy Prison where he will remain until he purges his contempt.

The person you should have sympathy for in this case is not Mr Burke who deliberately provoked this incident by breaking the law in order to court controversy, and who deserves everything he has got as a consequence, but the kid at the centre of this case who has done nothing wrong at all. I hope they have plenty of support from their friends and family and the sensible teachers in their school.

Guest Post: The Euclid Consortium has an EDI challenge if ESA goes ahead with SpaceX

Posted in LGBT, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on September 1, 2022 by telescoper

The following is a guest post from Arthur Loureiro who is Euclid Science Ground Segment Senior Scientist at the The University of Edinburgh. Opinions expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Euclid Collaboration nor the University of Edinburgh.

This guest post is based on an open letter sent by Arthur Loureiro & Gabriele Mainetti to the Euclid Consortium Diversity Committee.

–o–

According to news outlets, the European Space Agency is considering using Elon Musk’s SpaceX to send the Euclid Space Telescope to L2. SpaceX is seen as an alternative to fill the gap left by the Soyuz spacecraft – removed by Roscosmos as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia made its first invasion of Ukraine back in 2014 and, since then, ESA had plans to use the future Ariane 6 rocket to deliver Euclid. But the plan to use Ariane 6 went to space (differently from Euclid) as Ariane Space signed their largest contract ever with… Bezos! The comic book vilan billionaire doesn’t seem to have enough rockets in his back garden. He needs to cut the queue ahead of Euclid to send more space junk low-orbit satellites for Amazon.

So, off to SpaceX we (seem to) go.

The issue is that SpaceX’s CEO is known to be a complicated figure (to say the least!). Musk has attacked multiple times subjects at the core of the Euclid Collaboration’s values. We cannot claim to care for diversity, inclusion, equality, LGBTQIA+ rights, climate change, vaccines, and democracy and close a deal with such a vile figure. Launching the Euclid telescope via SpaceX would mean dumping millions of euros in the pockets of someone who is very vocal against these values.

In case our telescope decides to hitch a $50+M hike in SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the Euclid Collaboration has an EDI challenge ahead.

Personally, as one of the few Latin Americans involved in Euclid, it feels like a slap in the face to know we will be doing business with him. Musk has zero respect for the fragile democracy we have in our southern continent. In 2020, for example, Musk said “We will coup whoever we want. Deal with it” about the coup against the elected president Evo Morales in Bolivia. For context, the coup was mainly motivated by gaining access to Bolivia’s Lithium reserve. I find this statement absurdly disturbing. Reminiscents of a (hopefully) long gone colonial epoch.

I cannot speak for the group, but I suspect the feeling must be similar for the LGBTQIA+ community within Euclid. Musk has consistently and openly attacked the LGBTQIA+ community on multiple fronts. For the (few) women in the Collaboration, I imagine the feeling is of absolute repulse and disgust. On top of other issues Musk has with women, the telescope they have been working for will be (possibly) launched by SpaceX where recent accusations of sexual harassment have been raised against the CEO.

As a collective and diverse group of scientists, engineers, and academics, are we endorsing Musk and his attitudes by signing a multi-million dollar contract with his company?

As a collaboration that endorses the values of EDI, science, and democracy, what are we going to do to mitigate the damage caused by paying this person and company so much money?

How are we going to deal with the bitter taste (to say the least) left for those members of the EC that has been directly or indirectly attacked by Musk and his followers?

Euclid must fly to its final destination at L2. We cannot wait to see all that our Dark Universe mission has to reveal to us! If ESA decides to use Musk’s SpaceX, that is beyond the Euclid Collaboration’s decision power. However, the Collaboration can and must discuss how to avoid being linked in any way, shape or form to this despicable figure before we change from ESA’s Euclid Mission to Elon’s Euclid Mission. Credit to Musk must be avoided at all costs as the cost will be Euclid’s shot at being a diverse and inclusive Collaboration.

James Webb: the wrong name for a Space Telescope

Posted in History, LGBT, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on July 13, 2022 by telescoper

Following yesterday’s excitement about the new images from the James Webb Space Telescope I thought I’d share this video documentary that explains why the choice of name for this facility is highly inappropriate and should be changed. This is a matter I’ve blogged about previously, in fact, but the video is new.

The Queer Variable

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Maynooth on June 29, 2022 by telescoper

As Pride Month comes to an end I thought I’d take this opportunity to advertise The Queer Variable which is a collection of 40 interviews with people who are studying or working in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) and who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. You can find out more about the book and download it for free as a PDF or an e-book (whatever that is) here.

I am one of the people interviewed. My interview is actually the first in the book, which suggests I might have been the first person interviewed. Most of the interviews took place between 2020 and 2021, but I seem to remember doing the interview (over a rather choppy Zoom connection) back in late 2019 when I was a mere lad of 56 years old and before the Covid-19 pandemic. That all seems a very long time ago now!

Anyway, many thanks to Alfredo Carpineti and Shaun O’Boyle for compiling this collection and making it available. I hope people will find it useful.

Incidentally, one of the sponsors of this project is Science Foundation Ireland whose Director General, Prof. Philip Nolan (former President of Maynooth University) is quoted thusly:

SFI is delighted to support this important publication, which highlights the diverse spectrum of talent and experience among our LGBTQ+ research colleagues. STEM research must benefit all of our society and therefore STEM careers must also be welcoming and accessible to all members of our society. I thank all of the contributors for sharing their powerful personal stories and for providing insights into the challenges they have faced on their career journeys. By raising their voices, they are helping break down barriers for future generations.

Well said indeed.

Why we need Pride

Posted in LGBT with tags , on June 27, 2022 by telescoper

With this year’s Pride month coming to an end I was appalled to see this vile image posted on Twitter from deranged right-wing moron, anti-vax loon, failed actor and all-round nasty piece of work Laurence Fox. He’s been spouting rubbish for years of course, but this one is completely off the scale.

I’m sure even Mr Fox knows that the Nazis murdered over 10,000 gay men, forcibly castrated many others, and subjected still more to medical experimentation. You can read more about the facts here.

Laurence Fox has also tried to compare the mandatory wearing of face coverings with Nazi ideology and other nonsense, so it seems he has a persecution complex a mile wide. The trouble is that he’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of others who share his agenda of hate. Pride is an expression of solidarity and is needed just as much now than it was when it started 50 years ago.

Pride Month 2022

Posted in LGBT, Politics with tags , , , , on June 1, 2022 by telescoper

It’s 1st June 2022, which means that it’s the first day of Pride Month 2022. This year there’s actually going to be an in-person Pride Festival with a March and Parade in Dublin of which I’m planning to attend at least part, even if I am obviously too old for that sort of thing.

Anyway, I thought I’d flag this occasion with a selection of banners. Here is the traditional rainbow flag:

Here is the banner from Dublin Pride’s website, more accurately emphasizing the full spectrum of diversity covered by the term LGBTQIA+ than the original rainbow flag.

And here is the Pride Progress flag, hoisted today outside the John Hume Building on Maynooth University campus where it will remain for the rest of the month.

With its origins as a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, Pride remains both a celebration and protest. It’s more necessary than ever now because of the sustained abuse being aimed at trans people from all quarters, including those in political power and those sad losers who have nothing better to do that spend all day tweeting their bigotry on social media. Bigots will always be bigots, but the lowest of the low are those that masquerade as some sort of progressive while spouting their hate and prejudice.

Anyway, as well as a celebration and a protest, Pride is an opportunity for us all to show solidarity against those who seek to divide us.

Though many LGBTQIA+ people in many countries – even those that claim to be more liberal – still face discrimination, hostility and violence, Pride Month always reminds me of how far we’ve come in the past 50 years ago. Recently my own celebration of Pride is very subdued as it tends to makes me feel old and irrelevant as well as worried that we might be headed back to the bigotry and intolerance of the past; the rights we have won could so easily be taken away.

As I get older, I find I have become more and more protective towards younger LGBT+ people. I don’t want them to have to put up with the crap that I did when I was their age.

I would like to wish all LGBTQIA+ people around the world, but especially staff and students at Maynooth University, a very enjoyable and inspiring Pride 2022!

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

Posted in Football, LGBT with tags , , , on May 17, 2022 by telescoper

Today is May 17th which means that it is International Day Against Homophobia Transphobia and Biphobia, This is a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities and a chance to show solidarity against bigotry and intolerance.

I noticed yesterday that Jake Daniels of Blackpool (who is just 17) yesterday became the first professional footballer in the UK to come out as gay since Justin Fashanu did 32 years ago. It’s a shame that we live in a world in which such an announcement makes headlines, but we do. There are undoubtedly many gay professional footballers, but there is also a great deal of prejudice in the world of football. Jake Daniels made a very courageous decision and I congratulate him for it and wish him all the best. I hope his teammates and the fans of Blackpool give him the support he deserves.

Rory O’Neill aka Panti Bliss

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , on April 2, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday I attended an event at the Maynooth Students Union featuring Rory O’Neill, an LGBT+ rights activist who strongly involved in the campaign for Equal Marriage leading up to the referendum of 2015. Rory is perhaps better known in his drag persona, Panti Bliss. Rory left Panti at home for this event but it was extremely interesting and enjoyable – and a bit sweary! – to hear him talk about his life and experiences, especially why he became an activist and how he started out as a drag performer.

One of the things I remember very well was how he has spent time in countries where homosexuality is still unlawful talking to young LGBT+ people who a lack of hope that life can get better. He countered that Irish society even just a couple of decades ago was deeply homophobic and is now much more inclusive towards LGBT+ people. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s a heck of a lot better than it was. Ireland proves that things do get better.

Although I’m a bit older than Rory, didn’t grow up in Ireland, and have had a very different career, much of his story did nevertheless resonate with me. I’ve said a number of times on this blog that if someone had told me back in 1988 (when the infamous Section 28 was brought in by the Thatcher Government to attack a community already reeling from the effects of AIDS) that in 25 times there would be equal marriage in the UK I simply would not have believed them. Rory said something very similar yesterday.

Anyway, although there wasn’t a huge turnout for the event yesterday I’m very glad I attended and am grateful for the Maynooth Access Programme for organizing it. The event also gives me an excuse to post this clip of Panti Bliss giving a brilliant (and now famous) speech at the Abbey Theatre in 2014.

Physics in a diverse world…

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 25, 2022 by telescoper

Regular observers of the arXiv will have noticed a recent deluge avalanche of papers from the recent Snowmass Community Planning Exercise. There are many excellent reports although they came out all in a flurry which has made it difficult to keep on top of them.

An example that I missed was one that appeared in the Physics Education section of arXiv that arose from a talk by theoretical physicist Howard Georgi given at the KITP Conference: Snowmass Theory Frontier on Feb. 23, 2022. The paper, entitled Physics in a diverse world or A Spherical Cow* Model of Physics Talent, doesn’t have an abstract but is quite short and is well worth reading. You can download it here.

Here is a short extract with which I agree fully the philosophy of which I have tried very hard to follow ever since I got my first Professorship in 1998 (though not always with the cooperation of all colleagues, and sometimes, in the past, against the opposition of a few):

If your career is established and you are not making an explicit and continual effort to encourage, mentor, and support all young physicists, to create a welcoming climate in your department, and to promote the hiring of diverse faculty members, you are part of the problem.

I’m hoping next week to be able to pass on some exciting news in this regard about Maynooth University.

I wrote some of my own thoughts from the point of view of LGBT+ diversity here but much of what I said in that context is of wider relevance.

But that brings us to the question of why we should care about whether LGBT students might be deterred from becoming scientists. This is much the same issue as to why we should worry that there are so few female physics students. The obvious answer is based on notions of fairness: we should do everything we can to ensure that people have equal opportunity to advance their career in whatever direction appeals to them. But I’m painfully aware that there are some people for whom arguments based on fairness simply don’t wash. For them there’s another argument that may work better. As scientists whose goal is – or should be – the advancement of knowledge, the message is that we should strive as hard as possible to recruit the brightest and most creative brains into our subject. That means ensuring that the pool from which we recruit is as large and as diverse as possible. The best student drawn from such a pool is likely to be better than the best student from a smaller and more restricted one.

Big companies haven’t become gay-friendly employers in recent years out of a sudden urge for altruism. They’ve done it because they know that they’d otherwise be discouraging many excellent potential employees from joining them. It’s exactly the same for research

*This is an allusion to the old joke for the tendency of scientists – especially theoretical physicists – to adopt highly simplified models of complex phenomena.

Offering Refuge

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , on March 6, 2022 by telescoper

As the humanitarian consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfold, Ireland expects something like 20,000 refugees to arrive many of whom will require accommodation. Around 1300 have arrived in Ireland so far, but these have mainly been taken in by Ukrainian family members and friends already in Ireland.

(The number of Ukrainian refugees so far accepted into the UK is just 50.)

We had a Department Meeting on Friday which began with a minute’s silence for the dead, the bereaved and all those suffering in ways we can’t even begin to imagine as a result of Russia’s heinous crimes in Ukraine. As I stood in silence I felt frustration at the smallness of the gesture; that feeling wasn’t at all assuaged by making a donation to the Irish Red Cross appeal later that evening.

When I learnt that the Irish Red Cross has launched an appeal for emergency accommodation I saw the chance to do something practical. I have a spare room, which I decided to register as potential accommodation for a refugee. It’s quite a small bedroom but can be made available very quickly once I’ve moved a few things out and given it a clean. At least the bed is quite comfortable: I know because I slept in it for several weeks before my new bed arrived. Of course if anyone comes they can have the run of the rest of the house.

Pledging accommodation in this way is not a trivial process. The property and the host have to be vetted to check that nothing nefarious is going on. I expect I’ll be contacted next week for this purpose and if my pledge is accepted and an appropriate individual found, a case officer will be assigned to ensure everything is going OK. There’s no guarantee my offer will be accepted, though. I’ll just have to wait and see.

As a single adult it would obviously be more appropriate to host another single adult. It crossed my mind that an offer of accommodation in a university town such as Maynooth might enable a student or academic from Ukraine to continue their studies in some way, but I’m not going to limit the range of possible people to that. I can offer an LGBT+ friendly environment too if that is important to anyone.

I’ve lived alone for quite a long time now so it is not without apprehension that I registered this pledge. I can see that there may be many difficulties, but they would be as nothing compared to the difficulties facing the Ukrainian people right now. I feel it’s the least I could do.

I am glad that, within the European Union, Ireland is playing its part in the response to the Ukraine crisis. When I look across the Irish Sea at the United Kingdom’s callous indifference to refugees alongside its half-hearted implementation of sanctions on Putin’s evil regime, I am once more glad I no longer live in a country with such a corrupt and mean-spirited Government.