The past, present and future: a celebration of LGBT+ history at the University of Leicester

Posted by cc576 at Dec 31, 2020 12:00 AM |
Bringing LGBT+ History Month to a close

As February draws to a close, we’re also nearing the end of LGBT+ History Month, a month-long celebration and recognition of LGBT+ identities and experiences. Throughout the month, we've hosted activities and events (virtually, of course) to recognise, celebrate and raise awareness of the lived experiences and rich histories of the LGBT+ community.

And what a month it’s been: here's what you might have missed

There’s been panel discussions, film screenings, lectures and virtual cafés. As well as University-led activities, the VC reaffirmed his commitment to “equality and inclusivity being embedded in everything we do – to be a part of the fabric of the University and not simply a celebration for a month”. We’ve also heard from the Interim Associate Director of EDI and OD, Angie Pears, that this month is “a time to educate ourselves on continuing challenges and oppressions that LGBT+ members of the University community face” as she introduced the importance of respecting pronouns. And finally, we asked the med student turned artist behind the Student’s Union’s LGBT+ History Month artwork what her art represents for her and the LGBT+ Community and the LGBT+ Society President told us why it mattered.

But it wouldn’t be a history month if we didn’t take the time to reflect on our past

The University has a long history of campaigning for LGBT+ equality. It’s as much a part of our past as it is our future. There are some key people, activities and events in our own history that have helped to champion LGBT+ equality across the UK, and these are all moments we should reflect on and be proud of.

Introducing Mary McIntosh

1967 was the year of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, making it legal for men over 21 years old in England and Wales. It was an important milestone in the continuing journey towards LGBT+ equality, and it was also the year that then Leicester Sociology academic Mary McIntosh, published a one-page article in the Students’ Union newspaper, The Ripple, entitled ‘What is a homosexual?’

“McIntosh was an influential sociologist, feminist and LGBT+ rights campaigner,” says John Goodwin, Professor of Sociology and Sociological Practice. “She went on to write a pioneering sociological study of homosexuality called ‘The Homosexual Role’. The paper was ground-breaking in that it objected to research that regarded homosexuality as a ‘condition’ or set of ‘symptoms’. This was a significant leap forward that empowered the possibilities of and for the sociological study of homosexuality.”

McIntosh was also involved in setting up the Gay Liberation Front in London in the 1970s, and taught at Leicester from 1963-68.

The SU societies championing change

The University Student’s Union founded the ‘GaySoc’ in the 1970s, and during that decade, passed several revolutionary resolutions, including to investigate the University’s teaching about homosexuality, especially in psychology and sociology, and to campaign for the provision of books on gayness and the newspaper ‘Gay News’ to be available on the University Library.

Fast forward forty years, and the LGBT+ society is still having a big impact on the equality that students experience at the University. "Essentially the society exists today in order to ensure that the University and the SU uphold their commitment to bettering the experience of queer students, and in order to act as a network and completely safe space for LGBT+ individuals,” explains Tara Devonport, a third-year Law student and current President of the LGBT+ Society. “The LGBT+ Society is a wellbeing society by name, but we aim to do a lot more than that. On the social side we try and organise events to connect lgbt+ students and allow them to express their identity without judgement through things like weekly catchups (LGBTea), online games and big gay nights out - Boris permitting of course. But we also stand to celebrate, remember and promote LGBT+ activism beyond History Month with educational 101 talks, film screenings and remembrance vigils. The societies committee members are incredibly creative and dedicated to doing the most for our members. For me personally, the LGBT+ Society has enabled me to develop into my identity as a queer person and advocate proudly for our community."

Diversifying English heritage

In 2017, to mark 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, a collaboration between the National Trust and the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries saw a project team explore how to better represent LGBTQ history and culture, while sharing stories and challenging the past.

The award winning national public programme, Prejudice & Pride: exploring LGBTQ lives at the National Trust revealed previously untold LGBTQ stories; produced guidance on interpreting queer lives; pioneered new modes of engaging the public around these often contested histories; experimented with new ways of using histories to build understanding and public support for contemporary LGBTQ equality; and revealed how diverse audiences engage with and respond to challenging histories in heritage settings.

“A project of this scale and ambition – that set out to engage large and diverse audiences across the UK (many of whom were unfamiliar with LGBTQ heritage) – was enormously challenging but presented a unique opportunity to build widespread awareness, understanding and support for LGBTQ equality,” says Richard Sandell, Co-Director, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries. “Newspaper headlines at the time suggested that the Trust’s tackling of LGBTQ themes was hugely unpopular with members, volunteers and the wider public but extensive research revealed a very different picture with over 70% of respondents supportive of the celebration of LGBTQ lives.”

Nominate a moment that makes you proud

There will undoubtedly be many more personal moments in the history of the University that have had a lasting impact on you. Having read about some of the main events in our history, take the time to reflect on your own experiences, in particular to do with LGBT+ identity or identities. Has there been an event that inspired you? Has a staff member supported you in embracing your identity? Is there a society that has gone above and beyond in championing equality and inclusivity? Let us know through a nomination to Our 100.

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