Archive for the LGBT Category

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Posted in LGBT on November 20, 2022 by telescoper

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. The day honours the memory of those who have lost their lives as a result of transphobia and anti-transgender violence.

In 2021, the deadliest year on record, around the world at least 375 gender non-conforming people lost their lives to violence, almost a quarter of them attacked in their own homes.

Just last night a gunman attacked an LGBTQ bar in Colorado at an event run by a drag artist, killing at least five people. Violent events like this are a direct consequence of the words of those who use their media platforms to broadcast transphobic rhetoric and create an atmosphere of intolerance and hostility. That goes not only for bigoted politicians but also those squalid twitter trolls with nothing better to do than to abuse and harass.

LGBTQ+ STEM Day 2022

Posted in LGBT, Maynooth with tags , on November 18, 2022 by telescoper

So here we are once again on LGBTQ+ STEM Day!

As far as I know, there are no events planned at Maynooth to mark the occasion so for me it’s just a normal teaching day. I can nevertheless 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:

Transgender Awareness Week

Posted in LGBT with tags , on November 15, 2022 by telescoper

Apologies for being a bit late with this but I thought I’d just mention that this week (13th-19th November) is Transgender Awareness Week and take the opportunity this presents to send a message of support and solidarity not only to my trans friends colleagues and students, but to all transgender people everywhere.

You can find much more about Transgender Awareness Week at this site which is based in the USA but much of what is there is relevant elsewhere, including Ireland.

In the Name of JWST

Posted in LGBT, Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2022 by telescoper

JWST – nice telescope, shame about the name

I’ve blogged before about the problematic naming of the James Webb Space Telescope. Its name 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…

I still think it’s a shame that this fantastic telescope should have its image so tarnished by the adoption of an inappropriate name.

Anyway, yesterday I saw that the Royal Astronomical Society has issued a statement about this issue, which I encourage you to read in full. It begins

At its meeting in July the governing council of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) took a decision to write to the UK Space Agency, the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA to express its concerns about the original JWST naming process, the apparent failure to investigate James Webb’s background and the dismissal of requests to rename the telescope.

Until that investigation takes place and the results are made public, the RAS now expects authors submitting scientific papers to its journals to use the JWST acronym rather than the full name of the observatory. In this case, the previous requirement for the acronym to be spelled out at first mention will not be observed. This change will also be reflected in our communications more generally.

This does at least acknowledge the problematic nature of the name and the message it sends to LGBT+ scientists around the world and it the statement as a whole is to be welcome.

I think I’ll continue to use the name James Webb Space Telescope on this blog, though, as a reminder that the name should just be changed. Even in shorthand it’s an insult.



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.


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!