WGLE: How did the idea of creating the outlist come about?
OB: I believe that it was actually conceived many years ago by a group of (mostly younger) people who were the same ones who set up the GLBTQASTRO email distribution list. I merely volunteered to host it, partly because I had a permanent job and could therefore provide a stable host location.
WGLE: What do you think are the main problems gay astronomers face?
In those lucky states and countries where same sex marriage has become a reality, healthcare and benefits are no longer a problem. But of course they remain a very serious and real problem elsewhere. Because our careers often involve stints living in other countries, where one can meet someone and fall in love, having our relationships recognized for immigration purposes is vital.
Also, your question refers to gay astronomers in general, including women. I cannot say for certain, but I strongly suspect that gay men have it easier than lesbians, given the negative climate issues that, unfortunately, still persist generally for women in many institutions involved in the male-dominated physical sciences.
WGLE: Can you tell us a bit about your coming out experience in the workplace? Did you fear that it would affect you professionally?
WGLE: Has being a sexual minority impacted your career in any way? Have you experienced peer homophobia or student homophobia?
OB: No, no, and no, as far as I am aware.
WGLE: A study1 suggests students believe that minorities bring political baggage into the classroom; whereas the white heterosexual man is the cool head of objectivity. Do you think gay professors face discrimination from students?
OB: No, I do not, at least not in the "hard" sciences. This is basically because the issue is irrelevant for the material that we teach. Nevertheless, early in my career as a faculty member I was very nervous about coming out to students in my classes for fear of how they might react. Now as I have aged and become established, I simply do not care anymore. If it happens to come up, then it comes up. (E.g. my husband is an engineer, and sometimes I mention various things I have learned from him that happen to be relevant to material I am teaching. I have always found that students are far more interested in what I have learned from him than the fact that my partner happens to be a man.)
It is good for students for their professors to be open about who they are. I still have students who happen to have been struggling with their sexuality at the time they were in my class come to me later and thank me for showing them that a gay man can have a completely normal, successful life.
1: K. J. Anderson and M. Kanner, University of Houston-Downtown, Journal of Applied Social Psychology
WGLE: In 2008, nearly 80% of California voters turned to the ballot, with nearly 53% voting to eliminate the rights of same-sex couples to get married. Proposition 8, as it was called, was a serious blow to the perceived advancement of LGBT rights in California, and in the USA as a whole. You contributed financially to the fight against Prop 8. Can you tell us more about other active roles you took in this battle?
WGLE: How do you view the recent political turn of events for LGBT rights in the world? On the one hand we have marriage equality in many developed nations, whereas on the other hand BRIC countries continue to bash its LGBT population - Brazil has a powerful evangelical lobby that blocks LGBT advances, India has recently recriminalized gay sex, Russia under Putin has passed a number of anti-gay laws, China recognizes neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions. Considering many astronomy students and scientists in the US come from BRIC or even more conservative countries, would this harm the LGBT-friendliness of our departments?
WGLE: Any further advice to the younger generation?
OB: Don't get hung up on labels. Embrace who you are as an *individual*, and follow your own star. That is the secret to happiness in life in general, and it is also the secret to making your own distinctive mark in science.
WGLE: Professor Blaes, thank you very much for the interview. You are surely an inspiration to young LGBT astronomers starting their careers.