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There are many topics that I often find myself explaining to my straight colleagues. Mostly it’s out of their desire to know more, or better understand my experiences as an out gay scientist. But in the 13 years or so since I’ve come out (and in fact for several years before then, too) the one thing that I’ve consistently had the most reactions of surprise from straight colleagues is that there are places in the world to which I simply refuse to travel because of anti-gay laws.

Professionally, this comes up in the context of field work, conferences, or other meetings. And each queer scientist I’ve met with and discussed this topic with has their own take (as well they should!) that balances their safety, personal take on the environment, and comfort. I know several out scientists who have extended field work (as in several months) in what I would term hostile countries, which works for them (or at least they make it work, for the time being).

But so far, every straight colleague to whom I’ve mentioned this had been entirely oblivious until we had the conversation. Some got it right away, others still think I’m being unnecessarily negative. “It’s not like you’re having sex”, one said. No, I’m not, but that’s because I’m married and my partner’s not there. What if I were single? What about the local collaborators, field techs, guides, and others one might be working with? We’d all be held to a different legal standard The presence of such laws, their enforcement, and public debate around them is often a litmus test for other things. I wear a wedding ring (and have for years, leaving a fairly unmistakable “dent”), and the most terrifying bit of conversation with folks I don’t know in a place where my safety isn’t guaranteed is “I see you’re married; what does your wife do?”

 

So as a public service, a combination of Twitter, R, and Wikipedia, and as an excuse to work on a project with my friend Dave Hemprich-Bennett, we present the LGBTQ+ Rights Twitter Bot!

This is a twitter bot (an automated account) that periodically samples data from this Wikipedia article on LGBTQ+ rights around the world, and tweets them out along with the countries’ flags. It’s entirely automated and selects the country and rights in random order, and sends it directly to your Twitter timeline. So perhaps an obvious question is, why?

It’s an attempt to make more broadly known the challenges that queer folk face around the world, which probably isn’t something many straight folk have thought about all that much. And it’s also a place to celebrate the victories where equality has been fought for, and won. The Wikipedia article is remarkably well referenced, and generally considered up-to-date, and is also easily incorporated into the code for the Twitter bot. More detail can be found the IGLA’s annual State Sponsored Homophobia report.

I’ve had the idea for this soon after I saw Dave’s other Twitter bot, The Bat-signal. And fortunately he was able to relatively easily adapt the code, and do the leg work. If you’re interested, you can see the code over on Github.

In a way, it’s quite fitting to roll this out during Pride, which itself is a simultaneous celebration of how far we’ve come, and a reminder of how far we have yet to go. The battle doesn’t stop with marriage equality in our home countries (if indeed we’re fortunate enough to have won that battle already).

 

With special thanks to Dave Hemprich-Bennett for his amazing bot-building skills, and suggestions for this post.

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