NASA Defies Calls to Rename Telescope Honoring Anti-LGBTQ Leader

The space agency NASA has decided not to change the name of a telescope honoring an administrator with an anti-LGBTQ record.
REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

NASA has decided not to change the name of the James Webb Space Telescope despite concerns from advocates who have denounced the figure’s homophobic past.

NPR reports that results from a NASA investigation into the matter revealed “no evidence at this time” that would justify the agency changing the name of the $10 billion telescope, which is set to launch in December. As a former administrator for NASA, Webb allegedly contributed to the mass persecution and outing of gay and lesbian employees at federal agencies during the 1960s and 1970s.

Webb’s anti-LGBTQ record has many astronomers questioning NASA’s decision to name a telescope after the controversial leader. As of late, more than 1,200 scientists and astronomers, including Lucianne Walkowicz of JustSpace Alliance and Adler Planetarium, and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a Black agender physicist and professor at the University of New Hampshire, launched a petition urging the agency to choose a new name for the instrument.

“Prior to serving as the NASA Administrator, Webb served as the Undersecretary of State during the purge of queer people from government service known as the ‘Lavender Scare,'” wrote advocates in the letter. “We demand that NASA immediately rename JWST, and bestow this honor on someone whose legacy befits a telescope whose data will be used in discoveries that will inspire future generations of astronomers, discoveries that we the undersigned will make.” 

During Webb’s tenure at the agency, former NASA employee Clifford L. Norton was allegedly arrested after he was seen talking with another man. Norton was later fired from his job on the “suspicion of homosexuality,” advocates wrote in the letter. 

“The historical record is already clear: under Webb’s leadership, queer people were persecuted,” advocates wrote. “Those who would excuse Webb’s failure of leadership cannot simultaneously award him credit for his management of Apollo. Leaders are responsible not only for the actions of those they lead, but the climate they create within their spheres of influence. As we have noted previously, Webb’s legacy of leadership is complicated at best, and at worst, complicit with persecution.” 

NASA did not immediately respond to Gay City News’ request for comment.

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