Podcast transcript: Leeds Voices - Episode 9 Pride Scholarships

Transcript for Leeds Voices podcast episode 9. Return to Leeds announces plans to fund 25 PhD ‘Pride Scholarships’.

Leeds Voices presenter Alex Regan: Hello and welcome to Leeds Voices, the weekly podcast brought to you by the University of Leeds. I'm Alex Regan and this week we're coming to the end of Pride month, the month of June is a time when we celebrate and commemorate the LGBT community.

We celebrate how far we've come from the time of the Stonewall riots in the 1960s, but we also reflect on the issues that continue to face LGBT people globally. And that's something we want to address at the University of Leeds, and to mark the end of Pride Month, we have a very special announcement. Leeds intends to fund up to 25 pride Scholarships exploring global issues that impact the LGBT community. It marks a significant investment for the university in LGBT issues and its ambitions to become a world leader on LGBT research.

And to explain more, we're joined by sociology professor and executive Dean for the Faculty of Social Sciences, Paul Johnson. 

Professor Paul Johnson: The ambition is to advance LGBT equality around the world and to combat discrimination against LGBT people. The broader context is that if you look around the world at the moment, you can see that there have been some improvements for LGBT people in some parts of the world. In the UK in the last few decades, obviously there's been dramatic change in terms of reducing discrimination against LGBT people, but if you look around the world, on the other hand, LGBT people continue to suffer great amounts of discrimination.

The United Nations has recently said that LGBT discrimination is rising and that it's endemic in some parts of the world. The Council of Europe, Europe's leading human rights organization, has said that hatred against LGBT people is increasing and there is rising violence against LGBT people in Europe. So the context is discrimination, inequality and the aim is to address it and reduce it.

What the University of Leeds is embarking on is a comprehensive investment in postgraduate research. If we want to address discrimination against LGBT people, we need evidence-based understanding of the problems, the challenges and the solutions. And I think that has to come from evidenced-based, high-quality research. And that evidence-based high-quality research can really only be done by universities like the University of Leeds, which has such a comprehensive cohort of academics that can support students to produce the knowledge that the world needs.

So the aim is to recruit up to 25 postgraduate research students who will be doing PhDs on a wide range of issues. And as I said, the aim is to produce high quality research that responds to those challenges, addresses them and hopefully improves people's lives for the better. 

Alex Regan: There are huge global issues that face LGBT people. Do you have any examples of where research at the University of Leeds has looked at some of those issues already? 

Professor Paul Johnson: Yeah, I mean there are a wide range of people at the University of Leeds already studying issues relating to LGBT people. There is research on hate crime. There is research on human rights, there's research on access. That research is ongoing. So the University is already researching in this area what this represents as a step change is that we want to make dedicated funding available to a whole new set of researchers, we want to give them the opportunity to carry out new and novel forms of research and importantly, to become the next generation of global research leaders in these areas. 

Alex Regan: This feels a little bit like a world first, just from the brief amount of reading that I've done around this, I can't think of another university or institution that is trying to invest so much in the LGBT issue. Do you think that the University of these could become a world leader in this field? 

Professor Paul Johnson: I absolutely do. I think the University of Leeds is a world-leading institution in many ways. It has a comprehensive. Commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion in which this LGBT research will sit. But you're right, I think this could be a world-first in that it is probably the most comprehensive package of funding that a university would put together for so many students. Focused on LGBT people, and I think that the University of Leeds should be really proud of that. 

Alex Regan: And in terms of the amount of money this is going to cost, we're going to try and raise those funds. Can you explain a little bit about, how much is potentially going to be raised in order to fund these scholarships and the real world applications behind the findings of these scholarships? 

Professor Paul Johnson: Yes, to fund the entire program, we need about £5,000,000 and that funding is to underpin, everything that any postgraduate research student needs, which is, money to cover fees, to cover living allowance. To cover rent, to cover the research cost. And also we need funding to underpin, as you say, the translation of those research findings into impact, we need to make sure that we have the frameworks in place to enable that research to be translated into tangible changes in the world. It will underpin 25 life-changing projects.

I mean obviously in the UK, as I said earlier there's been a tremendous amount of social change and from which LGBT people have really benefited and that's been so positive. Everything from same-sex marriage to transformations in equality. Laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. So we have transformed tremendously. But actually on the other hand, LGBT people in the UK still do suffer discrimination, and in some ways that discrimination for some groups of people may even be worsening.

So I don't think the UK is at the end of its journey. And some of the research we'll fund through this scheme will obviously have application to the UK, but the most important thing is it will have application worldwide. 

Alex Regan: Now your work has already had a profound impact on the LGBT community in the UK. To date, your own research helped develop landmark legislation which led to posthumous pardons for gay men under the so-called Turing's law. Can you explain a little bit about who Alan Turing was? 

Professor Paul Johnson: I think most people have probably heard of Alan Turing, who was a person convicted of a so-called homosexual offence. This has now been repealed and the so-called Turing pardons are a scheme whereby people who have similarly been convicted of now repealed offences for conduct that would now be perfectly lawful can obtain a pardon. A pardon is, in essence, aside from its legal status, is a symbolic apology which says you were treated wrongly. You shouldn't have been treated like that, and this is the formal mechanism of the state essentially saying sorry. 

Alex Regan: Why for you was that such an important watershed moment for LGBT rights in the UK? 

Professor Paul Johnson: Well, I think the pardon scheme is very important for three reasons really. One is it recognizes a very, very great historical wrong going back hundreds and hundreds of years. It addresses people criminalised by statute law going back to the 16th century, so it is a way of recognizing that terrible history. It's also a way of providing people with redress on an individual level.

As I said, saying sorry to them, apologizing to them and thirdly, I think the most important thing is it says never again. It writes into law that we've drawn a line under this that we're not going back to this and that we are never again criminalizing people on the basis of who they fall in love with and have relationships with. 

Alex Regan: And thinking back to the Pride Scholarships, so the University of Leeds wants to develop 25 PhD scholarships. Obviously the dial has shifted in the UK. Globally, not so much in terms of the areas around the world that there are issues currently. What sort of issues do you think these scholarships need to combat. What are the real-world examples now of things that hopefully academic research can start to help combat? 

Professor Paul Johnson: Yes, I think there's a wide range of issues around the world that these scholarships will engage with, challenge and hopefully contribute to addressing. One is rising hatred of LGBT people in some parts of the world, another is an intensification of legislating against LGBT people in the world.

We've just talked about the UK addressing its shameful past of criminalizing people on the grounds of sexual orientation in some parts of the world. They are attempting or actually increasing the criminalisation of people on these grounds, so you know we need a comprehensive knowledge-based understanding of how to address this. There are issues of access to equal treatment, we've started to somewhat take that for granted in in the UK that you can't be - for instance - sacked from your job for your sexual orientation or gender identity. That clearly isn't the case in many parts of the world, and we need again comprehensive knowledge about that.

There is clearly discrimination in access to relationship recognition around the world. Again, we've now started to take that for granted in the UK, like marriage equality and so on. But in other parts of the world there is no legal recognition for any relationship between people of the same sex. And again, we need an understanding of why that is and how to address it.

We're coming to the end of Pride Month and that is a great moment for the University of Leeds to announce this scheme and its really ambitious programme of work because Pride is about saying  not just that people are obviously proud to be LGBT, but also saying that LGBT people suffer discrimination and inequalities and saying that those things need to be addressed. And what the University of Leeds is saying, we will, through this scheme, ensure that comprehensive research is done on a wide range of issues to enhance the lives of LGBT people and to make their lives better. And what could be a better time to say that than in Pride Month. 

Alex Regan: And in terms of where we'll be in 10-15 years’ time, what's hope? If I was to ask you, what's the best-case scenario for the end of these pride scholarships? What do you hope that they will have achieved? 

Professor Paul Johnson: My hope for these pride scholarships is, as I say, they will have produced. The comprehensive understanding that we need on a wide range of issues to improve people's lives, but what they will also have done is that they will have created 25 new global leaders. They are the leaders we need. Need in the future they will be the people that for the rest of their lives, advance equality for LGBT people, so we will have tangible change and the leaders of tomorrow. 

Alex Regan: Paul Johnson, thank you so much for joining us. 

Thanks very much for listening to Leeds Voices. It was presented and produced by me, Alex Regan.

Leeds Voices is brought to you by the University of Leeds advancement team. You can follow us on social media @leedsalumni or email the Alumni team at alumni@leeds.ac.uk