Oxford University has announced a new professorship in the history of sexualities in memory of Jonathan Cooper OBE, who passed away suddenly in September 2021. The Professor of the History of Sexualities will expand the study and teaching of LGBTQ+ history at Oxford. The position is open to scholars in any area of LGBTQ+ history, with the expectation that the role will be filled by 2023.
Oxford University in partnership with Mansfield College – one of its 39 constituent colleges – has ensured that Jonathan’s legacy of challenging the violation of LGBTQ+ rights will live on through expanding research into the history of those rights: a topic to which Jonathan dedicated significant attention. The chair is set to be the first fully funded specialist post of this type in the UK, thanks to a £4.9 million donation from historians and co-founders of the Arcadia Fund, Professor Peter Baldwin and Dr Lisbet Rausing.
The primacy of human dignity
Jonathan Cooper’s work in defending, and challenging perceptions of, LGBTQ+ rights was ground-breaking. In collaboration with Tim Otty QC, Cooper was a driving force behind the Human Dignity Trust, which challenges laws that violate LGBTQ+ people’s human rights across the commonwealth.
In a Big Questions interview with EachOther, when asked what human right he would like to see introduced in UK legislation, Cooper told us about his vision for a ‘Human Dignity Act’:
“I would introduce a one or two clause bill that says ‘everything the government does should be human rights compliant and put human dignity first,’” he said. “It probably doesn’t need to be enforceable. But you would be able to say: ‘how have you ensured human dignity is the priority in this policy?'”
“You have equal human dignity wherever you are on the globe. Whether you’re in Kazakhstan or Kensington, it doesn’t matter.”
– Jonathan Cooper
Credit: EachOther. Jonathan Cooper speaking with Aaron Walawalkar, former editor of EachOther
Jonathan’s legacy of defending rights will continue through Oxford’s new chair but also through the development of new legal frameworks which are based on his work.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC of Doughty Street Chambers explained how a new legal framework for a bill banning conversion therapies would safeguard people’s rights:
The death of Jonathan is heartbreaking. He was my close confederate and darling friend. We worked together on so many fronts: from decriminalising homosexuality to opposing Brexit, from supporting lawyers and judges at risk around the globe to creating an international team of support for the democracy movement in Belarus. We were currently putting together the legal framework for a Bill banning Conversion Therapies that deny and suppress the humanity of LGBTQI people. Jonny was a glorious life-enhancer whose ingenuity and compassion led to real and lasting change, especially for the gay community. What a loss to the world!
– Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
A legacy for all
As well as Jonathan’s dedication to law and to human rights, he was deeply interested in history.
Dr Kevin Childs, Jonathan’s husband, explained why the announcement of this chair in Jonathan’s memory is so fitting:
Jonathan Cooper was many things – an enormously respected human rights lawyer, an activist for LGBTQ rights, the rights of indigenous peoples and the right to self-determination, as well as a believer in the rights to dignity and to living an authentic life, and a tireless advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS. But his first love was history and if there’d been space in his life for him to be anything else he would have been a historian. So, it is particularly fitting that this first Chair in the History of Sexualities is named after him, for it acknowledges his passion and love as much as his reputation.
– Dr Kevin Childs
Mansfield College is currently working to secure the remaining funding needed to support a research cluster around the Professor of the History of Sexualities. They hope that these new positions will push the boundaries of research and create a platform for debate.
‘As a lawyer, and a friend of Jonathan Cooper, I am proud that his enduring contribution to the history of LGBTQ + emancipation will be recognised and celebrated by the post named in his memory.’
Mansfield College will be releasing more information about the recruitment process for the post shortly.