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‘Lavender Scare’ and NASA


  • NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which will show the clearest-ever images of the universe, is set to bring about a change in the way we perceive space.
  • However, the telescope’s name has come under intense criticism from the LGBTQ community.
  • The telescope has been named after James Webb, who ran the US space agency from 1961 to 1968, and allegedly had a role to play in the “Lavender Scare” at NASA.


  • GS Paper – 1 Social Empowerment
  • GS Paper – 2 Issues Related to Transgenders

Mains Question:

Examine the role played by the judiciary in protecting and promoting the rights of the LGBT community.

What was the Lavender Scare?

  • During the 1950s and 1960s, the Lavender Scare resulted in the marginalisation of LGBTQ employees working in US government offices.
  • It is commonly referred to as a “witch-hunt,” in which those suspected of belonging to the LGBTQ community were fired from their jobs.
  • According to the Guardian, one such case involved NASA’s Clifford Norton. Norton was fired in 1963 for “immoral, indecent, and disgraceful conduct” after being interrogated about his sexual orientation.
  • At the time, homosexuality and queerness were associated with a lack of morals or perversion, according to those in the US administration and society at large.

Who was James Webb and what was his role?

  • As NASA’s director at the time, James Webb is accused of playing a role in the firing of LGBTQ employees because of their sexual orientation.
  • In 2021, four astronomers in the United States wrote in ‘Scientific American’ about the need to rename the telescope.
  • They cited the 2004 book The Lavender Scare by historian David K Johnson, which “discusses archival evidence indicating that Webb, along with others in State Department leadership, was involved in Senate discussions that ultimately kicked off a devastating series of federal policies.”.

Arguments being put forth to seek a name change

  • Astronomers are demanding a change of name, arguing that the legacy of Webb should reflect what he oversaw as the head of NASA.
  • NASA, on its part, has not indicated a change in the name is on the cards.

ILO’s document on LGBTQ+Community

  • The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently published a document titled “Inclusion of LGBTIQ+ People in the Workplace.”
  • It makes recommendations to ensure equal opportunities and treatment for LGBTIQ+ employees.
  • The ILO’s national policy and labour law review will enable governments to assess their country’s work policy environment for LGBTIQ+ people.
  • This will allow concrete steps to be identified for improving the legal and policy environment, ending discrimination and exclusion, and complying with international instruments.
  • It urged member countries, employers’ organisations, and labour representatives to implement social protection programmes to remove social barriers that LGBTIQ+ people face.
  • Consultation with LGBTIQ+ communities is essential, in addition to social dialogue with employers’ and workers’ organisations.
  • The International Labor Organization encouraged governments to collaborate with small and medium-sized sector associations, sectoral unions, and informal economy workers’ associations to address gender and sexual identity discrimination and stigma.
  • It makes business sense to work on LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the workplace while encouraging employers’ organisations to end sexual discrimination at work.

Issues Faced by LGBTQ Community:

  • The issue of sexual orientation and gender identity causes conflict and family disruption.
  • Family conflict is exacerbated by a lack of communication and misunderstanding between parents and their LGBTQ children.
  • LGBTQ people face socioeconomic inequalities as a result of workplace discrimination.
  • Health Concerns: The criminalization of homosexuality leads to discrimination and results in LGBTQ people having limited or no access to health-care services.
  • It also reduces the availability and accessibility of HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services.
  • Isolation and Drug Abuse: They gradually develop low self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as become isolated from friends and family.
  • These people typically become addicted to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco to relieve stress, rejection, and discrimination.

Status of LGBTIQ+ Community in India

  • National Legal Services Authority vs. Union of India (2014): The Supreme Court stated that “recognition of transgenders as a third gender is a human rights issue, not a social or medical issue.”
  • Navtej Singh Johar vs. Union of India (2018): The Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality by striking down portions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that were found to be in violation of the LGBTQ Community’s Fundamental Rights.
  • The Supreme Court ruled that Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equality before the law and that this applies to all classes of citizens, restoring the LGBTQ community’s “inclusiveness.”
  • It also affirmed the primacy of constitutional morality in India, stating that equality before the law cannot be denied by giving precedence to public or religious morality.
  • According to the Supreme Court, the ‘Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Law in Relation to Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’ should be incorporated into Indian law.
  • The Yogyakarta Principles recognise sexual orientation and gender identity as human rights.
  • A distinguished group of International Human Rights experts outlined them in 2006 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
  • Tussle Over Same-Sex Marriages: In the case of Shafin Jahan v. Asokan K.M. and others (2018), the Supreme Court stated that choosing a partner is a fundamental right, and it can be a same-sex partner.
  • However, the Central Government opposed same-sex marriage in the Delhi High Court in February 2021, stating that a marriage in India can only be recognised if it is between a “biological man” and a “biological woman” capable of producing children.
  • Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019: The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, was passed by Parliament and has been criticised for its lack of understanding of gender and sexual identity.

July 2024