Cern laboratory made famous for work on Large Hadron Collider embroiled in homophobia row

LGBT Cern group members claim abuse has been ongoing for years

Sally Guyoncourt
Sunday 20 March 2016 19:36 GMT
A scientist at Cern’s Large Hadron Collider, which in 2012 proved the existence of the Higgs boson
A scientist at Cern’s Large Hadron Collider, which in 2012 proved the existence of the Higgs boson (AFP/Getty)

One of the world’s largest projects for scientific co-operation, the Cern laboratory in Geneva, has become embroiled in a divisive row over homophobia.

The European particle physics laboratory has garnered international fame for its work at the Large Hadron Collider, a vast underground circular tunnel where, in 2012, scientists used a particle accelerator to prove the existence of the sub-atomic Higgs boson particle.

However, its reputation as a co-operative community of scientists from all over the world has been dealt a blow after allegations emerged that a spate of homophobic incidents had taken place at the laboratory.

At least one researcher is reported by The Sunday Times to have been formally disciplined after CCTV cameras caught them defacing posters advertising Cern’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) club events.

LGBT Cern group members claim the abuse has been ongoing for years, with posters defaced with words such as “Schwein” (German for pig) and Old Testament biblical quotations describing sexual relations between men as an “abomination” for which they should be “put to death”.

“The continuing defacing of our posters is an unacceptable campaign of hate and intolerance,” British physicist and founder of LGBT Cern group Aidan Randle-Conde told the newspaper. “We do keep a track of how many posters get taken down or defaced and over a two-week period roughly one-third can be removed. I don’t know who is responsible, although it is probably the work of a few people. In some cases there have been religious texts attached to the posters.”

The abuse became so bad last year that Cern’s then director-general Rolf-Dieter Heuer warned all staff that they would be “dealt with accordingly” if there were further “acts of defacement to the LGBT community’s posters”.

Despite the warning, problems appear to have continued and last month Cern’s director of human resources issued a second caution to all staff.

A recent blog posted by the LGBT Cern group marking its fifth anniversary also referred to the problem on site. It read: “In a lab of thousands of people from all over the world and of all ages, it is not surprising to find a small minority who have a problem with our group.

“They have always been at the lab; the difference is that now they are making themselves known.”

A spokesman for Cern told The Sunday Times: “Cern really cannot accept something like this and it is why we have taken disciplinary measures against at least one person we could identify as being responsible for these disrespectful actions. Homophobic behaviour is not and will not be tolerated at Cern.”

Both Cern and LGBT Cern were unavailable for comment when contacted by The Independent on 20 March.

Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, was created in 1954 on the Franco-Swiss border to investigate the basic structure of the universe by studying what makes up matter.

The laboratory now has more than 10,000 scientists and engineers from 21 countries working on the project. One of the most significant by-products of its work has been the creation of the world wide web by the British scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

A spokesperson for CERN said: "CERN considers that these acts are unacceptable, and strongly condemned on various occasions. This is in our DNA not only words, and is clearly reflected in our core values and in our code of conduct. Homophobic behaviour is clearly not welcome at CERN and will not be tolerated."

A spokesperson for LGBT CERN said: "The recent article published in the Sunday Times is factually accurate, but some of us feel it conveyed the sense that the situation is much 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 a poster and are also pleased that we have an open line of communication with the CERN Diversity Office. Issues affecting LGBTQ* scientists go far beyond the laboratory, and in some parts of the world it is not safe for out LGBTQ* people to walk the streets. As scientists who attend conferences across the world, this places limits on our safety and ability to collaborate internationally."

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