LGBT+ and History in the UK

In the middle of February 2019, as many historians were marking LGBT+ History month, a small team of historians under the aegis of the Royal Historical Society started work on a new investigation, focussing on the experience of LGBT+ historians and on the teaching of LGBT+ histories in UK universities.

Led by Professor Frances Andrews, the Society’s first Vice-President for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, the first aim of the LGBT+ working group is to build on the outstanding efforts of those recently dedicated to Race, Ethnicity and Equality and Gender, completed in 2018. Those reports draw on large scale surveys of the profession to offer reliable data on the current situation and guidance for academic historians on how to address and diminish barriers to equality in the discipline.  We hope to create something similar.

At this stage, the working group has many more questions than answers. We recognise that, like the catch-all categories of ‘BME’ or ‘Women’ investigated in the Society’s previous reports, historians identifying as LGBT+ have different and potentially very divergent experiences. Some will be comfortable being out at work, with colleagues and/or students, others will be unable to be. Anecdotal evidence suggests that ECR historians find it particularly difficult to be out, and worry that it will affect their career prospects. As an identity that can be hidden, being gay or bi- leaves some academic historians feeling unsupported and unsure who to tell. Trans identities have been much in the news, and the controversies have probably touched many of us, even if only in discussions of gender neutral toilets or how to teach trans-histories. But how well do History departments support trans and non-binary colleagues and students and those who may identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual? What about colleagues and students who have other diverse gender or sexual identities?

When it comes to what we teach, many academic historians may be keen to teach LGBT+ histories, and will want to see those histories taught as part of the mainstream. Students may be keen to explore them. But LGBT+ historians may not want to ‘have’ to teach those histories themselves.  Are such concerns ever discussed in departmental meetings or reviewed when curriculum changes are introduced? How does it feel to be an LGBT+ academic working in a UK History Department in 2019? And how might things be improved? How do intersectional identities affect us and our students?

In the next couple of months the working group will be drawing up a questionnaire, to be circulated to fellows and members in the early summer. By then our questions will be more sharply formulated and, we hope, will offer the opportunity for a serious conversation about these issues.

In the meantime, if you have suggestions we would love to hear from you!

If you have any feedback on these initial ideas, or would like to contribute to the working group, please contact Frances Andrews by email: fea@st-andrews.ac.uk.