History UK welcomes the publication of the new RHS report on LGBT+ Histories and Historians, and fully endorses its recommendations.
This is the fourth report on equality and inequality in UK History, and it highlights instances of discrimination that are just as shocking. A significant number of LGBT+ historians do not feel safe or comfortable in academic spaces. Others have experienced clear and persistent harassment, including threats to safety. These are not only issues of mental health and wellbeing, but also have significant implications for individual career progression, and prevent the development of diverse and inclusive working environments that benefit history as a discipline.
Just as efforts to decolonise the academy cannot be limited to the diversification of reading lists on modules, so we need to embed diverse identities into curriculum and practice. Efforts towards equality and inclusion must include promoting LGBT+ historians and LGBT+ histories as integral to efforts. This effort requires commitment from History staff at all levels, and particularly from programme leads and line managers. The report emphasises that we need to work together to provide institutional support, and is particularly effective in showing the positive steps that non-LGBT+ historians should undertake to demonstrate allyship. History departments, and institutions as a whole, need to have conversations about this – but more than this, we need to take action.
This action needs to take place at the institutional and at the individual levels. Inclusive policies need to be embedded at institutional levels. Access to gender-inclusive spaces and provisions for gender recognition are essential, and dependent on senior leaders showing clear commitment to LGBT+ equality and inclusion. Some of the structural barriers may be out of the control of individual historians, but the report highlights ways that we can all work to make our communities more inclusive (for example, around use of correct pronouns). Ensuring that all individuals are not only able to recognise discriminatory behaviour, but that they are aware of institutional reporting systems, makes it much more likely that individuals will feel able to tackle such behaviour when it occurs, and use those reporting systems.
The recommendations are essential reading. The RHS has also compiled a series of useful online resources that historians can use in their own teaching, and to foster good practice within their institutions. This practical support in tackling discrimination and in bolstering pedagogical diversity and inclusivity will be one of the most helpful elements of the RHS’ work in this area.
It is clear that history is important for understanding the historically-rooted structures and belief systems that shape the ongoing exclusion of LGBT+ people from many spaces in society today. The rich bodies of LGBT+ and queer historical scholarship produced in previous decades should be fully integrated into teaching and research programmes at all levels. This is not only a matter of tackling discrimination, but of enriching historical knowledge. It will ensure that current and future LGBT+ students recognise themselves and their own experiences in the histories they are taught, and feel fully supported and encouraged to flourish within the university environment – with incalculable long-term benefits to the profession and the discipline.
28 September 2020