We have all been dazzled by the first images coming to us from the James Webb Space Telescope, whose deep infrared eyes are lighting up obscure corners of the universe in breathtaking colour and clarity.

But it’s time to stop being dazzled and to start being offended.

James Webb may have served in the US Marine Corps, held a senior role at the State Department, and been appointed by President John F. Kennedy as Administrator of NASA during the heyday of the space race. What really matters, however, is that Webb lived in the homophobic 1950s and may even have been homophobic himself.

Rumours of Communist infiltration of the American government during that era made the US fearful that homosexual employees could be blackmailed by the Soviets on the basis of their taboo lifestyle. This was known as the “Lavender Scare”, and it led to the sacking of gay members of the civil service.

James Webb was aware of this policy and didn’t oppose it, even though he knew full well that 70 years later social norms would change and his behaviour would become appalling, repugnant and unthinkable. As reported by Scientific American last year:

The records clearly show that Webb planned and participated in meetings during which he handed over homophobic material. There is no record of him choosing to stand up for the humanity of those being persecuted.

See? Webb didn’t even believe they were humans.  

Thankfully, MSN is one of the few news outlets to report the appalling insult to the LGBTQI+ community dispassionately and accurately. In an MSN article, Homophobic Telescope Reveals First Hi-Res Images of Deep Space, it quotes Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, an astronomer at the University of New Hampshire: “NASA leadership has stubbornly refused to acknowledge that what is now public info about JW’s legacy means he does not merit having a Great Observatory named after him.”

MSN tells truth to power

Fortunately 1,700 courageous citizens—ranging from scientists to space enthusiasts—have now signed a petition demanding that NASA rename its telescope to reflect “the rainbow of possible universes that our community imagines, dreams about, and works for”.

And I believe that you will all agree that our efforts must not end here.

We must reignite the movement that began in 2020 to rename streets, remove statues and purge the memory of people from past eras who didn’t have the enlightened social opinions we do. Yes, it would be more politically efficient to wait until the 2024 US Presidential election to begin rioting again, but we have work to do.

There are records to destroy, books to rewrite, pictures to be repainted, statues and buildings to rename, and dates to alter. The process must continue day by day and minute by minute until history stops and we live in an endless present, as some famous author once said.

Once we have renamed the James Webb Space Telescope, we really should consider cancelling telescopes in general, given how they discriminate against the visually impaired.

The rockets that launch them are also clearly phallic symbols of the patriarchy, so they must go too.

In fact, the whole field of space exploration evokes the white exploitation of colonial “possessions”. It reeks of alienation and subalternity and oppression. Cancel it.

Actually, I’m shocked that you’re willingly participating in epistemic violence by reading this article, given that it is written in English—the language of white people, the only race to ever practice slavery.

Honestly, I’m ashamed of writing it. Time to switch to binary code. 01100011 01100001 01101110 01100011 01100101 01101100 00100000 01001010 01100001 01101101 01100101 01110011 00100000 01010111 01100101 01100010 01100010.

Wait, isn’t binary code transphobic?

Kurt Mahlburg is a writer and author, and an emerging Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He has a passion for both the philosophical and the personal, drawing on his background as a graduate...