Archive for the LGBT Category

Please Just Give to Cystic Fibrosis

Posted in LGBT with tags , , , , on February 23, 2019 by telescoper

Many of the readers of this blog will know – or at least know of – Professor David Smith, chemist and LGBT campaigner at the University of York.

Sadly, Dave’s husband Sam passed away last week at the age of 39, after a long and courageous battle against Cystic Fibrosis. My thoughts are with Dave at this time as he comes to terms with this terrible loss.

It feels so useless just to express sadness or offer condolences, however heartfelt they may be, but at least there is something practical and tangible to do as well.

Sam’s last wish was to give something back to the doctors and nurses who cared for him at the Adult Cystic Fibrosis Ward at St James’ Hospital in Leeds and the Transplant Ward at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.

There is a JustGiving page here.

Please consider making a donation, to remember Sam, for Dave, and to help ensure that these dedicated teams can continue to give the support and care that their patients need.

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LGBT History Month

Posted in Biographical, History, LGBT on February 22, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve been out of circulation today so haven’t had time to do a proper post. I will however take this opportunity to remind you all that this is LGBT History Month, which is something I should have mentioned earlier!

And talking of history I notice that a year ago today saw the start of the UCU industrial action over pension cuts. So much has happened since, that seems like decades ago!

Loughborough Pride in STEM Research Showcase

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Talks and Reviews on February 13, 2019 by telescoper


So here I am then, in Burleigh Court (a hotel on the campus of Loughborough University), having just had a fine breakfast, preparing for the start of today’s Pride in STEM Research Showcase, which I am very much looking forward to. I’m giving the keynote talk at the end of the day’s events and will be here for the whole day. I’m very grateful to the organizers for inviting me and especially to Claudia Eberlein, Dean of Science at Loughborough University for greeting me when I arrived at Burleigh Court.

Some readers may recall that I worked with Claudia Eberlein at the University of Sussex a few years ago – she was Head of the Department of Physics & Astronomy for a time, but last year she moved to her new role at Loughborough. It was nice to have a beer and share some gossip about goings-on at the old place. It seems quite a few of the people I worked with at Sussex until 2016 have moved on to pastures new. Perhaps I’d better not comment further.

Anyway, I travelled yesterday evening from Dublin via the dreaded Ryanair who operate the only direct flights from Dublin to East Midlands Airport. In fairness, though, it was a very pleasant experience: we departed and arrived on time, where I was met on arrival by a driver who took me to Burleigh Court by taxi.

Well, I had better get my act together for the start of the meeting. Toodle-pip!

LGBT STEMinar Gallery

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, The Universe and Stuff on January 17, 2019 by telescoper

The official photographer at last week’s LGBT STEMinar took these pictures of me while I was delivering my keynote talk, and I thought you might find it amusing to see them. Actually quite a few of them could serve as subjects for a caption competition!

Out and Back

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Maynooth on January 13, 2019 by telescoper

So here I am, back home in Maynooth, after a very enjoyable day and a bit in London during which I learnt a huge amount and met so many lovely people. If only all science conferences were so much fun!

Incidentally, next year’s LGBT+ STEMinar will take place in Birmingham (2020), and the one after that in Oxford (2021). I’m told the first such event had about 40 participants but it’s now struggling to find big enough venues. The attendance at this year’s event was strictly limited by the capacity of the lecture room in the new IOP building. Hopefully the next will have a bigger theatre to enable even more people to come.

As well as being my first LGBT+ STEMinar this was also the first time I’ve ever flown on Aer Lingus. I was quite impressed, with flights in both directions being ahead of schedule. In fact I got back in such good time yesterday afternoon that I was able to get a much earlier bus than I had thought possible and found myself at home well before 7pm.

This trip gave me the chance for the first time to use the newer and swankier Terminal 2 in Dublin, which is a lot comfier than Terminal 1 (from which FlyBe and other budget airlines operate). It was Terminal 2 at Heathrow too, which is where I had awful problems with Eurowings earlier this year, but there were no problems this time. Both Dublin and Heathrow airports were very quiet. There is probably a post-Christmas lull in air travel at this time of year.

I did quite a lot of walking around London on Friday and Saturday, including walking to the Athenaeum from King’s Cross for the RAS Club. It’s hard to believe I lived in London for quite a long time (1990-98) as I am obviously a total stranger there now. I did however recognise the wonderfully cosmopolitan vibe as I walked through the West End towards Piccadilly. I was almost late for dinner as there were so many people about it was sometimes hard to make progress through the crowds. I’m also, of course, not as fast a walker as I used to be…

Anyway now that I’m back the main job for the next day or two is going to be marking examinations, no doubt preceded by numerous displacement activities..

LGBT+ STEMinar – Notes on my Keynote

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 12, 2019 by telescoper

I’m in a hotel near King’s Cross having had my Full English and with an hour or so before I have to check out and trek to Heathrow for my flight back to Dublin.

First things first. I promised a few people yesterday at the LGBT STEMinar that I would post the slides I used in my Keynote talk yesterday so here you go:

And here are a few pictures of me in action. I got all these from Twitter so apologize for not giving due credit to the photographers. My timeline was very crowded yesterday!

What I tried to do in the talk was to discuss the theme of progress over the last thirty years, both in my area of research (cosmology, specifically the large-scale structure of the Universe) and in the area of LGBT+ rights.

I started with my time as a graduate student at Sussex. One of the first things I did during `Freshers Week’ at when I started there was to join the GaySoc (as it was called) and I gradually became more involved in it as time went on. Over the five years I was at Sussex, `Gaysoc’ became `Lesbian and Gay Soc’ but a move to recognize bisexual people in the title was voted down, by quite a large margin. Inclusivity was (and still isn’t) a given even among marginalized groups. Biphobia and transphobia are still very much around.

Initially I kept my sexual orientation separate from my academic life and wasn’t really all that open in the Department in which I worked. My decision to change that was largely because of things going on in the outside world that convinced me that there was a need to stand up and be counted.

One of these was the AIDS `panic’ exacerbated by the Thatcher Government’s awful advertising campaign, an example of which you can see above. It was a very frightening time to be gay, not only because of the fear of contracting AIDS oneself but also because of the hostility that arose as a reaction to the `gay plague’. I’m convinced that this campaign led directly to a great deal of the violence that was inflicted on gay people during this time, including myself.

The second thing that made me want to come out was the Local Government Act (1988), which included the now infamous Section 28 (above). This was the subject of the first political demonstrations I ever attended. We failed to stop it becoming law, which was what we had wanted to do, but one positive that came out of this was that it did galvanize a lot of people into action, and the law was eventually repealed.

Anyway, I just got fed up of hearing people making ill-informed generalisations during this time. Rather than make a big public statement about being gay, I just resolved to not let such comments pass. I think it only took a few intercessions in the tea room or Falmer Bar for it to become widely known in the Department that I was gay. That was how I came out in astrophysics, and thereafter almost everyone just seemed to know.

So that was the eighties. If somebody had told me then that in thirty years the United Kingdom would have legalized same-sex marriage I would just have laughed. That wasn’t even really being discussed by the LGBT+ community then.

Anyway, back to the talk. What I then tried to do – actually for most of the presentation – was to outline the progress that has been made over the last thirty years in cosmology. When I started in 1985 there was hardly any data. There were some small redshift surveys of the order of a thousand galaxies, but my thesis was supposed to be about the pattern of fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background and there were no relevant measurements back then. I had to rely on simulations, as I mentioned here a few days ago.

Over the years there has been tremendous progress, especially with the accumulation of data enabled by improvements in observational technology. Theory has moved on to the extent that we now have a standard model of cosmology that accounts for most of this data (at least in a broad-brush sense) with just six free parameters. That’s a great success.

This rapid progress has led some to suggest that cosmology is now basically over in the sense that we have done virtually everything that we’ll ever do. I disagree with this entirely. The standard model contains a number of assumptions (general relativity, cold dark matter, a cosmological constant, and so on) all of which should be questioned. In science every answer leads to new questions and all progress to new challenges. If we ever rest on our laurels the field will stagnate and die. Success should never lead to complacency.

So then in the talk I returned to LGBT+ rights. Some (straight) people have said to me that now that we have equal marriage then it’s basically all done, isn’t it? There’s now no discrimination. You can stop talking about LGBT+ matters and `just be a scientist’.

That, I’m afraid, is bollocks. We have equal marriage but, though welcome, by no means represents some sort of utopia. Society is still basically a patriarchy, configured in a way that is profoundly unfair to many groups of people, so there are still many challenges to be fought. Unless we keep pushing for a truly inclusive society there is a real danger that the rights we have won could easily be rolled back. This is no more over than cosmology is over. In fact, you could really say that it’s really just the start.

The 2019 LGBT+STEMinar

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on January 11, 2019 by telescoper

I’m just back in my hotel after an evening at the Royal Astronomical Society Club Dinner which I went to straight from today’s LGBT+STEMinar at the very nice new Institute of Physics building on Caledonian Road near King’s Cross. This is what it looked like when I arrived this morning:

I enjoyed the LGBT+ STEMinar very much indeed. There was a huge range of talks by a wonderfully diverse crowd of speakers, on topics ranging from nuclear waste, parasites in wood mice, glaciology, quantum optics, the evolution of island finches, bacterial pathogenesis, gamma-ray bursts and machine learning in astrophysics.

I particular enjoyed the talk by Niamh Kavanagh from the Tyndall Institute in Cork who handed out home-made filters to give herself a rainbow effect:

I was delighted and relieved that my keynote talk and the end of the day seemed to go down quite well, at least judging by the comments I found in my Twitter feed just now. Here’s a picture I found there!

I’ll post the slides from my talk and perhaps a few other comments about it tomorrow, after I’ve had a good night’s sleep. But I won’t delay in thanking the organisers, especially Angela Townsend, for making this such a special day.