Blue plaque commemorates first trans conference


A blue plaque has been installed on campus to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the UK’s first ever trans conference.

Entitled ‘Transvestism and Transsexualism in Modern Society’, it was the first event of its kind to be organised by trans people for trans people.

The city’s Lord Mayor Councillor Al Garthwaite, and LGBT+ champion Councillor Hannah Bithell, unveiled the plaque on Friday 15th March at a ceremony on the steps of Leeds University Union, exactly 50 years after the conference took place.

The plaque was commissioned by the Leeds Civic Trust. Its Director Martin Hamilton said: “This conference was of huge significance in that it was the first one on trans issues convened by trans people in the UK, bringing these issues into the mainstream.

“Many of our plaques tell the stories behind people and buildings, but events and gatherings are equally as important, and this blue plaque is a means of drawing attention to a moment in history that many people will not know about.”

Taking its place in the story of our city 

GossipGrrrl is a trans artist and researcher based in Leeds. She lobbied for the plaque and arranged this year’s conference weekend which followed. She said: “The 1974 conference is something of an urban legend - talked about by members of the local trans community but with very little in the way of recognition for it by the rest of Leeds.

“The 50th anniversary seemed like the right time to nominate this landmark event to take its place in the story of our city.”

The plaque, a permanent symbol of the role trans people have played in the cultural fabric of the city, is hung in Leeds University Union. 

In a speech to the crowd assembled for the unveiling, Councillor Hannah Bithell said: “Leeds is, and has always been, a beacon for our LGBT+ community. Our communities advocate and fight from the group up for our rights and I am delighted that this has been a proud Leeds tradition throughout history.

“In the current onslaught of abuse for our trans community I love being here to unveil this plaque. Our trans history should be proudly displayed. It is incredible to think of the work that has gone into the progress of the last 50 years.

“I am grateful that Luna (GossipGrrrl) fought so hard for the plaque to be put up, and that the Civic Trust and university supported its placement. In years to come we will have more and more progress towards equal rights, and I know Leeds will absolutely be at the centre of that fight. Leeds, I am really proud of you.”

You will always be welcome

The weekend-long conference, attended by over 100 delegates, was organised by June Wilmott and Caroline Robertson. June Wilmott was a local representative of the Beaumont Society, which at that time was a support group for people who were assigned male at birth but lived and identified as female (who were referred to as transsexuals) or preferred to present as female some or all of the time (who were referred to as transvestites). Caroline Robertson was a postgraduate researcher at the University.

There were numerous talks held on that inaugural weekend, which covered a range of topics, as well as a disco which was attended by delegates and open to students from both the University of Leeds and Leeds Polytechnic (now Leeds Beckett).

In his speech, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences Professor Paul Johnson OBE, said: “What this anniversary reminds us is that addressing discrimination against trans people required some very brave people to organise, to come together, and to start the process of pressing for legal and social change.

 “It is tremendously important to remember those brave people, to mark their achievements, and to remind ourselves that society always needs such people if we are to stay on our journey towards equality and justice.” 

Sponsored by the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies (CIGS), and organised through the Leeds Civic Trust, the plaque will serve as a reminder of the University’s role in facilitating what many have seen as the beginning of understanding and recognising trans rights in the United Kingdom. 

Dr Patricio Simonetto, Director of CIGS, said: "I couldn't be prouder to express CIGS's sponsorship of this blue plaque. In this difficult context, in which many people seem invested in attacking the rights of the trans community, this commemoration is a message for trans youth: you will always be welcome at our university.”

Further information

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