Leeds has announced its ambitions to become the world leader in LGBT research with a major fundraising project.

Leeds is proud of its work on LBGT issues. It is already home to research on hate crime, human rights, and marriage inequalities.

But now Leeds wants to build on that and become the world leader on LGBT research. This year academics announced plans to raise a significant seven-figure sum to fund the Pride Scholarships programme, addressing global inequalities.

It’s led by Professor of Sociology Paul Johnson, who says: “My hope is that the Pride Scholarships will produce the comprehensive understanding we need on a wide range of issues to change people’s lives, while creating lasting tangible benefits – and developing the research leaders of tomorrow.”

Professor Johnson’s own work was fundamental in bringing about Turing’s Law’ in the UK. Named after Second World War codebreaker Alan Turing, who committed suicide following a conviction of gross indecency, it led to the posthumous pardons of men convicted for having consensual gay sex.

Beyond questions of legality, LGBT people face issues of discrimination and violence – from name-calling and harassment to being denied employment or healthcare.

Collage of images from Pride in Leeds
The Parkinson Building, lit up in LGBTQ+ colours

Pride and joy – The Parkinson Building lit up to mark Pride Month. Leeds Pride is the UK's largest free celebration of its kind, attracting a crowd of over 50,000 people to the city every summer.

Pride and joy – The Parkinson Building lit up to mark Pride Month. Leeds Pride is the UK's largest free celebration of its kind, attracting a crowd of over 50,000 people to the city every summer.

With donor support, the University now aims to enable postgraduate researchers to address these critical issues. Launching the plans during Pride Month in June, Professor Johnson said: “Pride isn’t just about saying people are proud to be LGBT, it’s also about saying that discrimination and inequalities still exist.”

The ambitious five-year fundraising initiative has attracted the attention of donor Peter Workman (French with Spanish 1983). “When I first read about the Pride Scholarships, I couldn't believe my eyes,” he says.

“For quite a few years now, gay people in Britain have enjoyed rights which these days they can take more or less for granted. But the experiences of gay friends of mine living in India and Turkey make it quite clear that, although homosexual activity is no longer a criminal offence in those countries, it is still very much a social taboo. There are many parts of the world in which ‘coming out’ simply isn’t an option, and I’m hoping that this research will bring tangible benefits for people living in the countries concerned. The fact that a major university – and the one I graduated from – is undertaking the research is amazing.”

Peter has experienced homophobia first hand – not least during his time as a student, when he heard a contemporary at Devonshire Hall talking about going ‘queer-bashing’.

“When I began my studies in 1979, society as a whole – not just in Leeds – was not particularly accepting of alternative sexualities. Gay people were best treated as figures of fun – a prime example being the ‘Mr Humphries’ TV character in Are You Being Served?

How LGBT rights vary globally:

- 64 countries have laws which criminalise homosexuality.
- In countries such as Iran and Afghanistan people can be sentenced to death for same-sex sexual acts.
- 15 countries retain stoning as the punishment for adultery, including gay sex.
- Same-sex marriage is still only recognised in 35 countries.
- In some states new discriminatory laws are still being passed.

“At the start of my second year, I went to Freshers Fair and caught sight of the GaySoc stand. Had I had more self confidence, I would have gone up and introduced myself – but I just walked away. I'd been aware of my sexuality for several years, but the time and circumstances weren’t right for me. At that age you feel vulnerable and don't want to upset the apple cart. It took another 20 years for me to pluck up the courage to do what I should have done then.”

Even so, Peter enjoyed his time at Leeds: “I became really absorbed in my coursework, to the extent of turning into a bit of a swot – and at the expense, I regret to say, of my social life.” After graduation he had spells in academia, as a teacher and as a tax officer, before joining the Customs and Excise translation service in London and subsequently taking up employment with the European Parliament and European Commission in Luxembourg, which remains his home.

“It took a great deal of courage in those days to stand up and say openly that you were gay.
Peter Workman leans against a pillar, smiling at the camera

Peter Workman: "This could make such a difference.”

Peter Workman: "This could make such a difference.”

The opportunity to support students from less-privileged backgrounds saw Peter reconnect with his old University some 20 years after graduating. “When tuition fees were introduced, I was horrified. Having benefited from a grant during my time at Leeds, I was appalled at the idea of students having to pay for university. I want to help young people to have the same opportunities as I experienced in my day.”

He has since deepened his involvement with Leeds, supporting our community learning centre IntoUniversity in south Leeds, funding a bursary in the School of Music and returning to campus to give talks and run workshops for language students. “I’ve had a great deal of good fortune in my life,” he says. “My Leeds degree enabled me to get the job I'm doing now and I feel there’s a moral imperative to give back.”

And he believes the Pride Scholarships could change lives across the globe: “It is very difficult for ‘mainstream’ people to understand what it's like to be different from the norm, or what impact that difference has on your perception and experience of the world. If I can do anything to make other people’s lives easier, my own life will not have been in vain.”

Listen to the Leeds Voices podcast episode to learn more about the Pride Scholarships.

Read more, as Peter Workman (French with Spanish 1983) reflects on his life, his time at Leeds and his support for the University’s new Pride Scholarships.

Peter Workman stands outside the Great Hall