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Excerpts from UCL’s LGBT History in UCL Records

12 July 2021

As part of UCL’s 2021 Pride celebrations, Dr Luciano Rila (Mathematics department) gave a Zoom lecture on ‘Gaysocs: a brief and incomplete history’, where he examined files held in UCL records to help tell the history of LGBTQI+ student life at UCL.

Rainbow flag atop UCL main building

As far as we know, the first student gay society in the UK was founded in UCL in 1972 by Jamie Gardiner, a PhD student in the Department of Mathematics. UCL Records still holds the registration records and the communications between university staff related to the creation and affiliation of the UCL Homophile Society or GaySoc.

The Gaysoc file contains 22 pages, while many of the similar administrative files recording the registration of affiliated societies usually contain only one or two pages. This reflects the amount of communication about the society between members of the university and the Students’ Union. 

Institutional archives, like UCL Records, tend to be ‘top down’. Their function is to hold registers, minutes, personal files and other administrative records. This means that they do not record other aspects of life at UCL that, in the past, they were never required to preserve, that might tell us more about how life was actually lived. The Gaysoc file includes items like a Freshers’ Week programme from 1972 and a poster designed by Alan Wakeman and published by Gay Sweatshop.

Colin Penman, Head of UCL Records, who helped support Dr Rila’s research in the archive has written an article looking at the internal documents that sheds light on the history of LGBTQI+ student life at UCL. 

He says:

"We’ve recognised [the] implications about representation in the archive, that doing only ‘top-down’ collecting silences important voices and stories. We have a rich collection in the College archive, but will certainly be doing more ‘ground-up’ collecting to ensure those voices can be preserved and heard for the future."