Go back

…and how to set up an LGBTQ research network

Creating a network for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer researchers might take months of hard work, but it is worthwhile because the personal and institutional benefits can be profound.

So says Bob Mills, a medieval historian who worked for 10 years with the Queer@King’s network at King’s College London and is now helping to establish a similar initiative as part of his role at University College London.

For those thinking of setting up a project at their institution, he says, don’t rush into naming it. “Be fluid. Wait to see what shape the network takes, and be open to a different agenda.” He adds that having a steering committee may work better than having a de facto leader, but it might occasionally be necessary to name one director because, although this hasn’t been an issue at UCL, it’s sometimes what a university expects.

The result can be “radically interdisciplinary”, Mills says, “and the variety of work I can cite in my writing after 10 years’ involvement with LGBTQ research networks is huge.” But the main challenge is reaching researchers who feel isolated and convincing those in seemingly unrelated disciplines that they have something to contribute. People in the English department might be able to talk easily to people from the French department, Mills says, but have difficulty connecting with people in biomedical research. The solution at UCL was to carry out an audit to see what LGBTQ research existed and what links became apparent.

Establishing an LGBTQ network takes a lot of commitment, Mills says, but it is important to make sure that, however involved any one individual is, the university supports the role and not the individual. This is no mean feat, as it involves convincing managers that it is OK for staff to spend work time on such a project.

Special events are a good way to get attention and can help to establish a focus, Mills says. Event organisers don’t have to meet the cost of such events—Mills secured funding from his own department and other areas of UCL just by writing and asking for it, though it helps if you can clarify the potential benefits. An institution can use such networks to come to terms with itself and tell its history in a different way, says Mills, who is interested in how modern LGBTQ labels could be applied to luminaries in UCL’s past.

One inaugural event of the UCL initiative is Queer Zoo, a discourse on “naming, taxonomy and queer animality”. The subject matter was chosen to help further the group’s understanding of its own identity, Mills says. He hopes the network might even get a name out of it.

This article also appeared in Research Fortnight