A brand-new professorship at Oxford University in the history of sexualities will be established following a £5m donation memorialising LGBTQ+ activist and human rights lawyer Jonathan Cooper, who died in 2021.
Cooper died suddenly aged 58. He was a leading light in international efforts to decriminalise homosexuality and at the forefront of enforcing the Human Rights Act. In 2011, Cooper established the Human Dignity Trust with Tim Otty QC, a charity that supports litigation overseas to challenge laws persecuting people for their sexuality and gender identity. Cooper also often pointed out the role played by the British Empire’s colonial rule in establishing these discriminatory statutes.
The trust continues to fight, as 71 countries still criminalise same-sex consensual sexual activity – and the punishment, in some, is death. Cooper was made OBE in 2007 for services to human rights. In a press release, a spokesperson for the University described Mr Cooper as ‘an inspiring advocate and activist for LGBTQ+ rights across the globe.’
The position in Cooper’s name will allow further teaching and research into LGBTQ+ history. When it’s launched, in 2023, the professorship will be the first of its kind in the UK. The funding for the seat comes from donations by Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing, founders of the Arcadia Fund; a charity that provides grants to organisations focusing on improving human and natural diversity.
‘Enduring contribution to the history of LGBTQ+ emancipation’
The professorship will be named the Jonathan Cooper Chair of the History of Sexualities, and will be based at Mansfield College.
In a press release, Principal of Mansfield College, Helen Mountfield QC said: ‘I am delighted that the new Jonathan Cooper Professor of the History of Sexualities will be based at Mansfield College, and it is my firm aim that this will be the start of an exciting research cluster exploring the histories and contributions of LGBTQ+ people. As a historian, in the non-conformist College, I am delighted to help widen the stories which are recorded and valued.
‘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.’
A spokesperson for the University explained why Mansfield College was chosen. They said: ‘It is fitting that the Professorship will be in association with Mansfield College because of its commitment to inclusion and diversity. Mansfield currently has the highest intake of UK undergraduates from the state sector and one of the most diverse communities of all the Oxford colleges in terms of the social, educational, and ethnic background of its students.’
The post is set to open for applications from scholars in all areas of LGBTQ+ histories.