This press pack is aimed at answering common questions about the ongoing defacement and removal of LGBT CERN posters at the CERN laboratory. The organisation of CERN is complex, so please take the time to read the questions related to CERN itself. This press pack was put together by the LGBT CERN group, and does not reflect the position of CERN. Please contact Press.Office@cern.ch for queries related to CERN’s stance on the matter.
About the poster defacement
- What is happening?
- For several years, the LGBT CERN group has been putting up posters advertising the group and its events. Every few weeks the posters must be replaced because many are removed or defaced.
- How long has this been going on?
- LGBT CERN was founded in December 2010, and its posters have been removed or defaced ever since. It is still a problem for the group today.
- What about the “Schwein” and “Leviticus” graffiti?
- In some cases the defacement includes slurs, and this includes “schwein” (German for “pig”) and biblical quotes (Leviticus 18:22), as well having other specially made posters pasted over our posters. These cases tend to be rare, with around 10 such incidents over 5 years.
- How many posters get removed/defaced? Where are they removed/defaced?
- We monitor when and where posters are removed or defaced. We tend to put up the posters in high traffic areas, and these tend to get removed first. The rate of removal varies depending on the location, with some posters being removed within an hour of being placed. Over the course of around two weeks we can expect about one third of posters to be removed. We pass statistics about poster removal on to CERN Human Resources, and we report every instance of defacement. Defaced or missing posters are always replaced by LGBT CERN as a matter of principle.
- Has any other harassment against LGBTQ* people occurred at CERN?
- Thankfully, there are very few instances of such harassment apart from the removal and defacement of posters. One member of the group received hate email multiple times from one other person at the lab, who was subsequently disciplined.
- You say your posters get removed- do other posters get removed?
- In nearly all cases it is the LGBT CERN posters which have been removed, while other posters remained on the walls and noticeboards. Our posters are being targeted, while other similar posters are not. Anecdotally, posters advertising conferences or social events often stay up for months, if not years after their expiry date. Some posters that are clearly spam are often removed (for example posters advertising an alternative therapy to cure sneezing) have in the past been defaced or removed.
- On one occasion we put up more posters in more locations than usual and in multiple languages to celebrate IDAHOTB (International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.) In this case, more of the posters were taken down than usual, but this probably reflects concerns about the use of wall space rather than the message we spread. The following weeks we saw a return to the previous level of selective postal removal.
About CERN and LGBT CERN
- How is CERN organised? How many people at CERN work for CERN?
- CERN is a laboratory for international collaboration, and as such the majority of people working at the lab are not employed by CERN. CERN has an organisational structure for the smooth running of its facilities. LGBT CERN is an “Informal Network”, which is part of the Diversity Office, which is part of Human Resources, in the CERN structure.
- (Taken from jobs.web.cern.ch/faq/general-information) “There are over 2,250 staff members employed by CERN but there can be up to 13,000 people on site at any one time. This includes users, students, fellows, sub-contractors and visiting scientists from around the world. To learn more about the people who give CERN its international spirit go to cern.ch/People/”
- The Staff Association is the “labour union” for people employed by CERN. The Users Office is the facility for people not employed by CERN.
- You can find out more about the organisation of CERN and the Staff Association on the following pages:
- Why is LGBT CERN not a CERN club?
- The Staff Association is responsible for deciding what group can and cannot be a CERN Club, and in 2012 they decided to refuse Club status for the LGBT CERN group. CERN management has no control over this decision, and cannot force the Staff Association to overturn its decision. (To contact the Staff Association for comment, please see the contact details at the end of this document.)
- Does LGBT CERN work with CERN to reduce harassment?
- Yes, CERN and LGBT CERN work together and have a good working relationship. Both are opposed to the current acts of removal and defacement of posters.
- What does LGBTQ* mean, and why are you called LGBT CERN?
- LGBTQ* is a broad umbrella term that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, and any person who wishes to identify with our group. We chose the name “LGBT CERN” for practical reasons (so we could register a domain name, Twitter account etc) but we welcome everyone and anyone can self-identify in a way they feel most comfortable.
- Does LGBT CERN speak for all LGBTQ* people at CERN?
- No, we are a loosely organised network which anyone at CERN can join, but we do not expect every person at CERN who identifies as LGBTQ* to join our group, and we are aware that not everyone wishes to do so. Membership in the group is confidential, anyone is welcome to join, and the only reason we would turn someone away is because of unacceptable behaviour or harassment.
Response to the removal and defacement
- What is CERN’s response to these acts?
- CERN is committed to opposing these acts of removal and defacement, as outlined in their equality policy. For more details you can contact the CERN Diversity Office. See diversity.web.cern.ch
- CERN takes the cases of harassment seriously and tries to identify who is responsible. When people have been identified removing or defacing posters CERN has made contact with them. All personnel at CERN, whether employed by CERN or not, are subject to the Staff Rules and Regulations. Where a person is not employed by CERN the Director General can dismiss an associated member of personnel by terminating the contract of association.
- You can read the Staff Rules and Regulations at: cds.cern.ch/record/1993099/files/CERN_SRR_en_ed11.pdf
- Does CERN have a process for the resolution of harassment situations?
- CERN has a harassment resolution process (defined in an administrative document: Circular Operational 9 cds.cern.ch/record/1382461/files/CERN_Circ_Op_En_No9.pdf) and applicable to all CERN contributors. It can take two forms: an informal resolution dealt by the Ombud or a formal process involving an investigation by a trained panel.
- Is CERN doing enough to combat this problem?
- CERN has already made some statements about conduct at the lab, and identified some people responsible. However there is always scope for a stronger response and more resources to combat this problem.
What actions have been taken?
How does this relate to the atmosphere at the lab?
- Do most scientists have a problem with the LGBT CERN group?
- Most scientists are supportive of a tolerant atmosphere and are either in favour of the LGBT CERN group, or are indifferent to its presence. Very few scientists are openly hostile to the LGBT CERN group.
- How many people are removing or defacing posters? Where are they from?
- We don’t know the exact number of people who are removing and defacing our posters, but we suspect it is small. We do not know the background of these people. CERN is an international laboratory with most people on-site coming from Europe. The bible quotes suggest the person/people have a Christian background.
- What is the overall feeling at the lab?
- Personal opinions vary, and the attitude seems to be mostly one of “quiet tolerance” (ie don’t make a fuss and we will tolerate you.) Based on personal accounts, the presence of the LGBT CERN group has made the lab more welcoming to LGBTQ* people.
- Why is this such a big deal?
- Everyone at the lab would like to get on with scientific research, and not spend time or resources dealing with this kind of harassment, and that includes members of the LGBT CERN group. However, we must respond to acts of defacement, especially when they include religiously motivated incitements to violence. Such behaviour is neither acceptable nor tolerable in a laboratory which aims to foster international collaboration.
- Hasn’t the group provoked this kind of behaviour?
- The presence of an LGBT group does not provoke people into becoming bigoted or intolerant. Its presence may reveal existing prejudices and intolerances which have to be confronted, but in time the presence of an LGBT group leads to a more tolerant and supportive environment.
What other issues affect LGBTQ* scientists?
- What are the effects of the removal and defacement of posters?
- The immediate effects are torn paper and hurt feelings. The longer term effects are increased tension in the lab, damage to CERN’s reputation as an international lab for collaboration and cooperation, and a significant investment in time and resources to combat the problem.
- You have mentioned international conferences being a problem. Why is this?
- Scientific research is an international collaboration, so we need to work together and attend conferences in nations which are hostile to LGBTQ* people. For example, both Iran and Russia are active in high energy physics, and both are dangerous places for LGBTQ* people. This means that an LGBTQ* scientist may have to choose between collaboration and their own personal safety, especially if they do not “pass” as a cis-gendered straight person.
- What about partnership rights?
- People from across the world come to CERN, and many form long term relationships. This creates complex situations for people in legal partnerships or same-sex marriages, because the relationship may be recognised in one nation but not another. CERN’s stance is that partnership is recognised by reference to the law of the competent authority under which the personal status has been established. In CERN’s five year review these issues were discussed in some detail, and CERN brought registered partnership at the same level of benefits as marriage.
- What about general life in the Geneva area?
- Geneva is in many respects a very conservative region. Many people find being an LGBTQ* person in the Geneva region to be more “closed off” than other similar cities (for example London, Paris, New York.) Having a group where one can meet like-minded people helps to integrate into the local community better, and means that they do not feel the need to “hide” while they work at the lab.
Selection of articles
The first article to report on the defacement of posters (and several other topics) was Physics World’s “Where people and particles collide”, written by Louise Mayor. This article was the results of 6 months of correspondence with several people at CERN, including LGBT CERN. An article in the Sunday Times (“Gay physicists collide with bigotry at Cern” by Jonathan Leake) followed, and then the news spread to many other media outlets across the world.
- Physics World: Where people and particles collide
- Sunday Times: Gay physicists collide with bigotry at Cern
- Independent: Cern laboratory made famous for work on Large Hadron Collider embroiled in homophobia row
- International Business Times: LGBT scientists targeted by homophobic abuse at Cern laboratory in Geneva
- Pink News: Homophobia row at the Large Hadron Collider as vandals claim gays should be ‘put to death’
- Gay Times: Homophobia exposed at the home of the Large Hadron Collider
There are many other news reports which are reachable via search engines.
- LGBT CERN: lgbtcern.com
- CERN Press: press.cern/
- CERN Diversity Office: diversity.web.cern.ch/
- CERN Staff Association: staff-association.web.cern.ch/contact
Statement of LGBT CERN on recent news articles
Following a feature in Physics World, an article was recently published in the Sunday Times. The Sunday Times article is factually accurate, but some of us feel it conveyed the sense that the situation is worse than it is. Poster removal is unfortunately a common occurrence, but more serious events, such as the “Schwein” grafitti or threats like the Leviticus posting are thankfully rare.
We appreciate that action has been taken against the one person caught removing our poster and are also pleased that we have an open line of communication with the CERN Diversity Office. Our membership is diverse and includes not just scientists, but engineers, technical personnel, administrative staff, and their spouses and partners.
Issues affecting LGBTQ* people go far beyond the laboratory, and in some parts of the world it is not safe for people perceived as LGBTQ* to walk the streets. Our membership includes many people who attend conferences across the world, and this places limits on our safety and ability to collaborate internationally.
These restrictions stifle scientific progress and we do not have to look far to see the effects of such attitudes. Alan Turing, a gay mathematician and the father of modern computers who helped to break the Nazi enigma code, was driven to suicide by the homophobic environment of 1905s Britain. His death was not just a personal tragedy, it was a huge loss for computing science and we still use many of his groundbreaking ideas six decades after his death. Sadly, there are still many parts of the world which have strong scientific programs and vicious homophobic pogroms.
(LGBTQ* is a wide ranging umbrella term which includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, and any person who self-identifies with similar terms.)