Archive for the LGBT Category

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.

R.I.P. Steve Bronski (1960-2021)

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Music with tags , on December 9, 2021 by telescoper

I was saddened to hear this evening of the death at the age of 61 of Steve Bronski, co-founder of the band Bronski Beat which provided much of the soundtrack of my early twenties. I spent many an hour in the mid-80s dancing away in gay clubs to their up-tempo numbers like Hit That Perfect Beat but, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the song Smalltown Boy had a particular resonance for me because it was about thoughts and feelings I knew very well but had never heard expressed in popular music. I really felt like the Smalltown Boy in the song.

Rest in Peace, Steven William Forrest, aka Steve Bronski (1960-2021).

On the Repeal of Section 28..

Posted in History, LGBT, Politics with tags , , , on November 18, 2021 by telescoper

I was reminded today is the 18th anniversary of the Repeal in England & Wales (on 18th November 2003) of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which contained the following:

I remember very well the numerous demonstrations and other protests I went on as part of the campaign against the clause that became Section 28 way back in 1988. Indeed, these were the first large political demonstrations in which I ever took part. But that repugnant and obviously discriminatory piece of legislation passed into law anyway. Students and younger colleagues  probably don’t have any idea how much pain and anger the introduction of this piece of legislation caused at the time, but at least it also had the effect of galvanising  many groups and individuals into action. The fightback eventually succeeded; Section 28 was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and in England & Wales in 2003.

I know the 33 years that have elapsed since the introduction of Section 28  is a long time, but it’s still amazing to me that attitudes have changed so much that now we have same-sex marriage. I would never have predicted that if someone had asked me thirty years ago!

I think there’s an important lesson in the story of Section 28, which is that rights won can easily be lost again. There are plenty of people who would not hesitate to bring back similar laws if they thought they could get away with them.  They are trying to do so now with a sustained assault on the rights of transgender people. That’s why it is important for LGBTQ+ people not only to stand up for their rights, but to campaign for a more open, inclusive and discrimination-free environment for everyone, everywhere, including in the workplace. That’s one of the reasons why today’s LGBTQ+ STEM Day is so important.

LGBTQ+ STEM DAY 2021! (#LGBTSTEMDay)

Posted in Biographical, LGBT with tags , on November 18, 2021 by telescoper

So here we are once again on LGBTQ+ STEM Day! Last year on this day I gave a talk via Zoom and remember hoping that the following year we could have an in-person event in Maynooth but alas that was not to be. Nevertheless I can at least use the medium of this blog to wish all LGBTQ+ persons working in STEM subjects around the globe a very enjoyable day. You can find out about events near you by checking here, looking for the hashtag #LGBTQSTEMDay on social media or by following the twitter account:

JWST: Nice Telescope, Shame about the Name…

Posted in LGBT, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on October 17, 2021 by telescoper
The JWST deployable mirror undergoing tests

I heard last week that the ship carrying the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) arrived safely in French Guiana and is now being prepared for launch on an Ariane-5 rocket at the European Space Agency’s facility at Kourou. Since the telescope cost approximately $10 billion there was some nervousness it might have been hijacked by pirates on the way.

I’m old enough to remember JWST when it was called the Next Generation Space Telescope NGST); it was frequently discussed at various advisory panels I was on about 20 years ago. Although the basic concept hasn’t changed much – it was planned to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope working in the infrared and with a deployable mirror – at that time it was going to have an even bigger mirror than the 6.5m it ended up with, was going to be launched in or around 2010, and was to have a budget of around $600 million. About a decade ago cost overruns, NASA budget problems, and technical hitches led to suggestions that it should be cancelled. It turned out however that it was indeed too big too fail. Now it is set for launch in December total cost greater than ten times the original estimate.

I know many people involved in the JWST project itself or waiting to use it to make observations, and I’ll be crossing my fingers on launch day and for the period until its remarkable folding mirror is deployed about a fortnight later. I hope it goes well, and look forward to the celebrations when it does.

There is a big problem with JWST however and that is its name, which was changed in 2002 from the Next Generation Space Telescope to the James Webb Space Telescope after James E. Webb, a civil servant who was NASA’s chief administrator from 1961 to 1968.

It’s not uncommon for scientific space missions like this to be named after people once the proposal has moved off the drawing board and into serious planning. That happened with the European Space Agency’s Planck and Herschel to give two examples. In any case Next General Space Telescope was clearly never anything but a working title. Yet naming this important mission after a Government official always seemed a strange decision to me. Then news emerged that James Webb had enthusiastically cooperated in a McCarthyite purge of LGBT+ people working in government institutions, part of a wider moral panic referred to by historians as the Lavender Scare. There have been high-profile protests (see, e.g., here) and a petition that received over a thousand signatures, but NASA has ruled out any change of name.

The main reason NASA give is that they found no evidence that Webb himself was personally involved in discrimination or persecution. I find that very unconvincing. He was in charge, so had responsibility for what went on in his organization. If he didn’t know then why didn’t he know? Oh, and by the way, he didn’t have anything to do with infrared astronomy either…

It’s a shame that this fantastic telescope should have its image so tarnished by the adoption of an inappropriate name. The name is a symbol of a time when homophobic discrimination was even more prevalent than it is now, and as such will be a constant reminder to us that NASA seems not to care about the many LGBT+ people working for them directly or as members of the wider astronomical community.

P.S. As an alternative name I suggest the Lavender Scare Space Telescope (LSST)…

The Killing of Samuel Luiz: why do you straight men do this?

Posted in Biographical, Brighton, LGBT with tags , , on July 10, 2021 by telescoper

This is a picture of Samuel Luiz, a young gay man who was kicked and punched to death outside a nightclub in A Coruña, Galicia, Spain, on Saturday 3rd July 2021. At least 12 men were involved in the vicious assault and they were shouting the word maricón as they beat him. The word is a derogatory term in Spanish for a gay man, roughly equivalent to “faggot” in English. At least four men (all between the ages of 20 and 25) have been arrested for this murder. Let’s hope some justice is served. Demonstrations were held across Spain to protest Samuel’s killing.

This attack came just a few days after the end of Pride Month and if nothing else shows how far we still have to go. People sometimes ask why we still need Pride, after all we now have gay marriage? Well, Spain has gay marriage, but mobs still murder gay men. Anti-gay hate crime is reportedly on the increase in Spain and probably elsewhere. The Government of Hungary has enacted specifically homophobic legislation

There’s nothing new about this kind of homophobic violence. Queer-bashing was endemic in Brighton when I lived there in the 1980s. I know. I was on the receiving end of a beating myself. There were only four assailants in my case, and of course I didn’t die. My physical injuries were relatively superficial, but it was a life-changing experience and not in a good way. The word that was ringing in my eyes as I lapsed into unconsciousness then was “faggot”, so reading about Samuel Luiz brought it back. Sometimes things like this make me want to go and live off-grid somewhere far away from people to avoid such thoughts intruding again.

Anyway, that experience on Brighton sea front left me convinced that however much attitudes and laws change there will always be men – presumably straight – who for some reason despise gay men so much that they want to inflict violence on us. I can’t rid myself of the belief a very large number of straight men would behave in that way if they thought they would get away with it. It takes me a very long time to trust a heterosexual man enough to call him a friend.

I wish I could understand what causes so much hate. Believe me, if thought about it a lot and for a very long time and it remains incomprehensible to me. Perhaps it expresses some kind of need to assert dominance, much as misogynistic transphobic, and racist violence does? Or perhaps just a form of tribalism like football violence? The one firm conclusion I have reached is that the people who do this sort of thing are utter cowards. Why else would they need a gang to beat up one person? And the people who just look on and don’t intervene are cowards too.

In a piece a while ago I wrote about my experience in Brighton:

I have to say that for quite a long time in this period my general presumption was that a majority of heterosexual people were actively hostile to LGBT+ people, and that would always remain the case. There were quite a few gay people in Brighton who felt the same and their reaction was to become separatists. The logic was that straight people were always going to be horrible, so to hell with them. You could drink in gay bars, eat in gay restaurants, live in a gay part of the town, etc, and thereby minimize interaction with the hostile majority. This seemed an attractive lifestyle to me for some time, but I gradually began to feel that if there was ever going to be a chance of things changing for the better, LGBT+ people had to engage and form alliances. That strategy seems to have worked for the wider community, and I applaud the many straight people who have become allies.

It’s easy to say you’re an ally but are you willing to stand up and be counted?

A comment below objects to the “you” in the title of this post. I thought very carefully before including it. The response “not all straight men are like that” is unhelpful for lots of reasons.

First, I know that. All gay people do. We already know not every straight man is a murderer, or otherwise violent. We don’t need you to tell us. Second, it’s defensive. When people are defensive, they aren’t listening to the other person; they’re busy thinking of ways to defend themselves. It’s a classic social media response. Third, people saying it aren’t furthering the conversation, they’re sidetracking it. The discussion isn’t about the men who aren’t a problem. Fourth – and this the most important point – nobody can really know which straight men are “like that” and which aren’t until it’s too late.

I would genuinely love to live in a society without prejudice on the grounds of identity but we’re not there yet. I don’t think it does any harm to hold a mirror up to the kind of stereotyping that many groups have to deal with on an everyday basis. You may not like being included in a generalisation but at least you’re not put in mortal danger because of your identity. It’s not you who is a target.