Archive for the LGBT Category

Pride Month 2023

Posted in Biographical, LGBT on June 1, 2023 by telescoper

It’s 1st June 2023, which means that it’s the first day of Pride Month 2023. I’m looking forward to the Pride Festival with a March and Parade in Dublin later this month, of which I’m planning to attend at least part, even if I am obviously far too old for that sort of thing. Another thing that happens this month is that I turn 60!

Incidentally, this will be the 40th anniversary of the first official Dublin Pride.

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. 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. 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. But 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 2023!

The Hate is still Out There

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Mental Health with tags , , on May 21, 2023 by telescoper

A few days ago I mentioned on this blog the case of a gay teenager in Navan being beaten up by boys from the same school; there was a news report here. Five youths were subsequently arrested but have now been released without charge. I felt a strong sense of dismay when I heard the news of their release, as the decision to let them go seemed to declare open season on homophobic violence. It may however because the assailants have to be treated as minors.

Press coverage related to this story has generally condemned the sharing on social media of a video showing the violent assault. There are quite a few people, however, including me, who think that the Gardaí would not have taken any action at all had they not been shamed into doing so by the publicity generated by the video.

Regular readers of this blog will probably understand why this case resonates with me: a similar thing happened to me way back in the 1980s. There are differences, of course. For one thing, I was rather older – in my mid-twenties rather than mid-teens. For another, the incident wasn’t reported to the police. There wasn’t any point in those days. The Brighton police at that time were notorious for dismissing complaints of gay-bashing despite the fact it was an endemic problem. People I knew who had reported such incidents usually found themselves being investigated rather than their assailants. In those days the law did not recognize homophobic offences as hate crimes. Far from it, in fact. Attacking a gay person was, if anything, considered to be a mitigating circumstance. This attitude was fuelled by a number of high-profile cases (including a number of murders) where gay-bashers had been acquitted or charged with lesser offences after claiming their victim had provoked them.

Another difference is that I didn’t go to hospital. I had a black eye, a fat lip and a lot of bruises, and had been unconscious for a time, but there didn’t seem to be any serious physical damage. The psychological effects were far from negligible, though, and I have experienced intermittent mental health problems ever since, sometimes needing to be hospitalized for psychiatric treatment. You can read about this here; a short summary is that I should have got help with this much earlier. The important thing now is that the boy who was targeted in Navan gets proper treatment and counselling. I wish him a speedy recovery.

Here’s something I wrote in 2010 after in the blog post describing my own experience of homophobic violence:

Now fast-forward about 20 years. Attitudes have definitely changed, and so has the law. Certain types of criminal offence are now officially recognized as hate crimes: the list treats sexual orientation as equivalent to race, gender, religious belief and disability in such matters. The Police are now obliged to treat these with due seriousness, and penalties for those found guilty of crimes exacerbated by homophobia are consequently more severe.

Recently, there are increasing signs of a backlash against LGBT+ people, most obviously in America but also here in Ireland. Much of this is fueled by toxic rhetoric of the Far Right who seem to want to target trans people. Social media, especially Twitter are awash with transphobic abuse and threats of violence for the reason that trans people are perceived to be easy targets. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure this strategy does not work.

I worry that the rights that the LGBT+ community has taken so long to win, could so easily be taken away. If we are complacent and pretend that everything is fixed because we have equal marriage then we will soon see those rights being eroded. LGBT+ people have to remain active and visible, show solidarity with one another, and keep pushing against all forms of discrimination, harassment and bullying wherever it happens. And the first step in doing that is to raise awareness that there is a serious problem.

I was reflecting on my own encounter with violence the other day. I try not to think about that very much, but I found myself wondering where the four guys who attacked me are now. They were about the same age as me, so will be around 60 now. Do you think the hate they expressed with their fists back in the 1980s has gone away? More importantly, do you think it reasonable that I should believe that? I don’t. The hate is still out there and will find its expression at the slightest provocation.

The reference to hate crimes in the above quote relates to the UK, of course. I was a little surprised to see that until very recently there was no legal definition of a hate crime in Ireland. Legislation has only just been introduced on this subject, with cross-party support. Among other provisions:

The new legislation will criminalise any intentional or reckless communication or behaviour that is likely to incite violence or hatred against a person or persons because they are associated with a protected characteristic. The penalty for this offence will be up to five years’ imprisonment.

The protected characteristics in the new legislation are: race; colour; nationality; religion; national or ethnic origin; descent; gender; sex characteristics; sexual orientation; and disability.

It remains to be seen how the new law works in practice.

International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

Posted in LGBT with tags on May 17, 2023 by telescoper

I just remembered that 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.

A video circulating today on social media in Ireland showing a teenager being beaten up because he is gay reminds us that we need this now more than ever; there’s a news report here. I hope the culprits are brought to justice. The rising tide of violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals is encouraged by those who spread poisonous rhetoric in the media and online.

In Praise of Drag Queens

Posted in Biographical, History, LGBT, Politics with tags , , , on March 29, 2023 by telescoper
The late Paul O’Grady in Lily Savage persona

I was very sad to hear this morning of the death at the age of 67 of Paul O’Grady, who was best known (to me) in the form of Lily Savage, the best of the drag acts to be found in London when I lived there years ago. I remember seeing Lily Savage many times, including one memorable night at the old Drill Hall near Tottenham Court Road, which was a hilarious occasion enjoyed by everyone there (including a smattering of celebrities in the audience). The best bit of the best drag shows is always how the performer deals with hecklers. Paul O’Grady had a ready wit and a very acerbic tongue which made Lily Savage a must-see act. I wasn’t the only one to be surprised when Lily Savage got her own mainstream television show in the 90s, as much of her material was very “blue”, and I wondered how she would fare with the inevitable toning down of the material. The transition to Telly, however, turned out to be a great success.

Paul O’Grady “retired” Lily Savage some years ago, but still appeared on TV as himself to great popular acclaim. I never knew him personally but some old friends of mine from London got to know him very well, including going on holiday with Paul and his partner Andre (whom he married in 2017). They all said Paul was a lovely and friendly person and just as funny in private as he was on stage or on television. I send my condolences to his friends and family.

Drag has of course been around for centuries. Cross-dressing in the theatre, in film, and in opera, where it plays a central role in many plots especially in comedies. Who can forget the wonderful Alastair Sim in the St Trinian’s movies? More recently, Danny La Rue (who, incidentally, was born in Cork) was a regular performer on television in my youth and was for a time Britain’s highest paid entertainer.

But Paul O’Grady was a bit different. He successfully navigated a tricky journey to bring Lily Savage from the underground world of gay bars and clubs into the realm of popular culture at a time overshadowed by Section 28 and the AIDS crisis. Paul O’Grady was a powerful advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. His visibility and humour made the world a better place for many of us. His was a life well lived.

It is especially sad that Paul O’Grady’s death coincides with widespread and growing hostility to drag queens from far right bigots, who are intent on attacking anyone associated in any way with the LGBTQ+ community. The banning of drag shows – which has already happened in some States of the USA- is just part of this agenda; transphobia is another, as is the anti-migrant movement. It’s all about manufacturing hostility to distract attention away from the real problems of society. The list of targets is growing. Before long, any lifestyle perceived to be unconventional in any way will come under attack. The wave of bigotry sweeping across the world is intended to sweep diversity aside and leave in its wake a bleak landscape of dreary uniformity.

The career of Ireland’s own Rory O’Neill (aka Panti Bliss), who was a popular contestant on Dancing with the Stars, mirrors that of Paul O’Grady. I recently went to an event featuring Rory O’Neill. He had left Panti at home for the occasion 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. I have the same sort of admiration for Rory as I had for Paul. We need more like them.

I also have personal reasons for being grateful for drag queens. When I was a youngster (still at School) I occasionally visited a gay bar in Newcastle called the Courtyard. I was under age for drinking alcohol let alone anything else – the age of consent was 21 in those days – but I got a kick out of the attention I received and flirted outrageously with the much older clientele. I never took things further but never had to buy my own drinks, let’s put it that way.

Anyway, one evening I left the pub to get the bus home – the bus station was adjacent to the pub – but was immediately confronted by a young bloke who grabbed hold of me and asked if I was a “poof”. Before I could answer, a figure loomed up behind him and shouted “Leave him alone!”. My assailant let go of me and turned round to face my guardian angel, or rather guardian drag queen. No ordinary drag queen either. This one, at least in my memory, was enormous: about six foot six and built like a docker, but looking even taller because of the big hair and high heels. The yob laughed sneeringly, whereupon he received the immediate and very muscular response of a powerful right jab to the point of the chin, like something out of a boxing manual. His head snapped back and hit the glass wall of a bus shelter. Blood spurted from his mouth as he slumped to the ground.

I honestly thought he was dead, and so apparently did my rescuer who told me in no uncertain terms to get the hell away. Apart from everything else, the pub would have got into trouble if they’d known I had even been in there. Instead of waiting around in Marlborough Crescent, I ran to the next stop where I got a bus after a short wait.

When I got home I was frightened there would be something on the news about a violent death in the town centre, but that never happened. It turns out the “gentleman” concerned had bitten his tongue when the back of his head hit the bus shelter. It must have been painful, but not life-threatening. My sympathy remains limited. I stayed away from the pub after that.

I think there’s a moral to this story, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide what it is.

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.