Professor Duncan French, PVC and LGBT+ SLT Champion, shares his personal thoughts on LGBT History Month and reflects on where we’ve come from and what still needs to change… “The gay and trans community have much to celebrate, but we also have much to fight for and advocate against”
“Looking back, perhaps the biggest impact on me – though not affecting me directly – was hearing on the news, in the 90s, the seemingly innocuous but (the more I thought about it) pervasively worrying motto of the armed forces in the United States: “don’t ask, don’t tell!”. It suggested a toleration if you blended in, a blind eye (perhaps), but only if you didn’t raise your head above the parapet. It was trumpeted as progress but on if you stayed on the margins of the mainstream of society. Personally, I never thought about a career in the armed forces, but the message seemed to my young adult ears as demonstrably threatening to where a gay person fitted in.
30 plus years on, things have changed a lot but as a professor of international law, I am minded that many countries still operate such policies – and indeed much, much worse – across the entire spectrums of gay and trans people’s lives. I am minded of the famous phrase of Dr Martin Luther King Jr: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.
It thrills me beyond measure to see gay role models for young people in a way that didn’t exist in my day on tv, in sports and in everyday life. But I do worry about the “everything is now rosey” Tik Tok generation (of not just gay but predominantly white) social media influencers. It is for many – but by no means all. And if LGBT history month teaches us anything, it is that we don’t improve our own position societally if we pull the drawbridge up once we are ok individually, materially and even emotionally. The gay and trans community have much to celebrate, but we also have much to fight for and advocate against”.
PVC, Head of College of Social Science