LGBT Research Community


6th Southampton Stonewall Lecture: Interview with Professor Dagmar Herzog

February 28, 2017
by Lewis Brennen

On Thursday 9th February Professor Dagmar Herzog came to the University of Southampton to give the 6th Southampton Stonewall Lecture. The lecture, entitled ‘Love and Perversion – The Modern History of Homophobia’ was part of a series at the University of Southampton focused on communicating the latest LGBT history research to a wider public audience.

Professor Herzog is a distinguished professor of history and the Daniel Rose Faculty scholar at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her work on the histories of sexuality, gender, religion, Jewish-Christian relations and the Holocaust informed her fascinating lecture.

We interviewed Professor Herzog before the lecture to find out more about her career and what led to her interest in the history of sexuality in the twentieth century.Dagmar Herzog


What are the key ideas you want to put across to the audience today?

The story I want to tell in my Stonewall lecture has to do with the overwhelming power of homophobia in the post-World War II United States. This is the world of the cold war and an anti-communist climate in which the psychiatrists and psychoanalysts were enormously influential in giving legitimacy to ugly hostility towards homosexuality. The story I want to tell has to do with how incoherent and absurd these ideas were, and yet how powerful they were and how much damage they did, but also how the same ideas were refuted and dismantled and how ultimately brilliance and generosity triumphed over cruel silliness.

So that’s the arc of the story – the rise of the homophobic consensus and its destruction, but I’d also like to introduce a very important character, Robert Stoller, who was crucial in the 1970s in using psychoanalysis to rebut homophobic ideas. I want to give an example of how one can have a queer eye for heterosexuality, because ultimately that was the strategy Stoller used in order to dismantle homophobia and to make it look ridiculous. I also want to communicate how closely linked gay rights and women’s rights are. I’m interested in how the content of homophobia changes: the excuses people make for why they have to be prejudiced change over time, which shows you that it’s really about maintaining power.


In your latest book (Cold War Freud) you write about the ‘durability of homophobia’. Why has homophobia been so enduring in the modern age?

It’s a great question. It would be nice not to have to ask it anymore!

Many thoughtful people have given different answers over time.

One possible answer is the one Freud himself gave in Civilisation and its Discontents, which is that heterosexuality doesn’t always make people as happy as they want to be – something in the nature of sex and intimate relationships is always somewhat disappointing at some times. Not everyone feels totally comfortable inhabiting their gender. There is something special about sex that makes it very easy to manipulate people politically around it, so it makes people vulnerable in their intimate relationships and in their relationships with themselves that’s intense for people. It takes effort to be sovereign and generous towards difference and not fall into getting excited about curbing other people’s freedoms.


You started as a historian of religion in 19th century Germany. How did your interest in the history of sexuality begin and develop? Do you see yourself mainly as a historian of sexuality or even LGBT history?

It’s true that I started writing on the rise of a religious right in the 1840s and what was interesting to me was – writing during the years of the rise of Ronald Reagan in the US, Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Helmut Kohl in Germany – that I noticed that liberals were very disconcerted by the rise of a sexually conservative religious Right that they hadn’t expected and didn’t know how to respond to.

I was interested that the religious disputes and fights about Christian-Jewish relations that I was analysing in the 1840s were actually carried out via a lot of sexual innuendo – so it was the sources that led me to the topic. I was interested in the fact that this religious Right used sexual innuendo to make fun of liberals and disconcert them, and it had a variety of consequences for how liberal Christians understood Jewish rights.

I was interested in this nexus of Christianity and the difficulties it has with Judaism, seeing this endless rivalry, always frustrated that the Jews don’t come over to the Christian side and I was interested in the conflicted feeling around sexuality – themes that have stayed with me all along, but which came out of the sources.

Subsequently I met a lovely man named Theodore Weiss, an Auschwitz survivor, who approached me at a conference in 1993 and said he wanted me to teach history of the Holocaust at Michigan State University and I said ‘but I write on the nineteenth century’ and he retorted ‘I’ve researched you – you can do this.’ (I am confident that he has said this to dozens of scholars over the years! He has been extraordinarily successful in mobilizing the field.) And indeed, with his help, it turned out he was right. Thanks to him, I become a twentieth-century historian. I then became very involved in Holocaust education and to this day I’m very active in the work of the Holocaust Educational Foundation and just taught a week-long course at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I ended up writing my second book on the stages of memory-making in the aftermath of the Holocaust and what lessons people drew from that cataclysm and astonishingly – I did not go looking for it – the sources were filled with sexuality.

Strikingly, Christian conservatives in the immediate aftermath of the Third Reich argued that the way to get over this horrible past of mass murder was to clean up and restore family values and to clean up the culture sexually. Then a generation of their children – many of them members of the New Left – said that no, we needed to liberate sexuality in order to avoid another Auschwitz. They thought the Third Reich had been totally sexually repressive even though that wasn’t true. In truth, the Third Reich had combined incitement to heterosexual activity with lethal homophobia with brutality towards Jews and Roma and many other peoples, so actually there had been a combination of taboo- breaking both in the realm of sexuality and in the realm of violence.

Because the Third Reich itself was complicated, it was easy to draw contradictory lessons from it, but a lot of the intergenerational conflicts after 1945 were played out in the realm of sexuality. So that’s where my long standing obsessions with ‘what is the emotional appeal of right wing politics and fascism’, ‘how do homo- and heterosexuality belong together and how differently in each time period’ and ‘why is it that fights about nonsexual matters get carried out in the realm of sex and vice versa’ – those things all come from these research experiences. It’s not me – it’s the sources!

I look at these things and think “6 million people have just been murdered and you’re talking about cleaning up family values? It’s offensive! This cannot be what you’re talking about.” But indeed it was.


One of your major works is Sexuality after Fascism (2005) about 20th century Germany. How has this changed the way we think about the history of sexuality/ homosexuality in Europe?

One of the questions I always ask myself is how can you tell a fascism when you see it? For the 1920s, 30s and 40s whether you’re looking at Italy or Spain or Nazi Germany or Vichy France there’s hostility to homosexuality – predominantly male homosexuality – for some reason that’s more upsetting than lesbianism to the powers-that-be. There’s always also control of abortion rights, which is a way of controlling female sexuality. It’s different in each of the different fascisms but you can always see that double phenomenon.

Thinking now about right-wing movements in the United States in the post-war period, again you have anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality. Think about Western Europe now: for a while Western Europe was presenting itself as very progressive about sexuality, female sexuality and LGBT rights, trying to tell post-communist Eastern Europe that it needed to get with that liberal programme. Now we have massive movements also within Western Europe arguing that they don’t want to have “gender theory,” that they don’t want to have (what they call) “premature sexualisation of children” (via sex education) in classrooms; there is a move against gay marriage and there is a move against abortion rights again. It’s strange and upsetting to me that these are the facts, but thinking about the premier example of fascism helped me see this phenomenon is everywhere.

Another truth about the Nazis is that they were very much encouraging of sexual pleasure: they really incited sexual pleasure for non-disabled, heterosexual “Aryans”, who were the majority of the population. There’s this huge encouragement to pleasure on the one hand – pre-marital, extra-marital, marital – everything, and that’s the flipside of the coin of a lethal homophobia. The intensified prosecution of homosexual men, putting them in concentration camps, castration, conversion attempts, this grotesque behaviour is the flipside of all that encouragement.

So one other trait of many right-wing movements is that they also promise pleasure, that they are not just repressive across the board. One can look at Evangelical Protestantism of a certain conservative bent in the United States and see that it’s actually encouraging of fabulous marital sex, as long as one supports the anti-homosexuality, anti-abortion agenda. There’s always this idea that ‘we will offer you something better’. Right wing movements don’t just market repression, they market the promise that some group of people will get to feel superior and get to break the rules and have more fun.


You are a very active researcher and writer! What are your plans for future research?

The project I’m working on now has to do with the history of disability. I come to it both from history of religion, history of the Holocaust and from history of sexuality, because before the mass murder of European Jewry there was mass murder of the disabled.

In no other nation, in no other time and place has this happened that a nation killed its own disabled en masse. It was the “trial run” for the Holocaust. You can think of it as the prologue or the first chapter, but literally the same hundred individuals that got their practice and their training committing the mass murder of the disabled are the ones who go to Poland and start the Operation Reinhardt camps of Sobibór, Bełżec and Treblinka. Those camps used the same technology: killing by carbon monoxide. This was before they discovered Zyklon B in Auschwitz. A quarter of the Holocaust is done by carbon monoxide and is modelled on the earlier killing of the disabled. It’s obviously the same attitude of “lives unworthy of life.”

One of my major missions in Holocaust studies is to integrate the murder of the disabled more strongly into the history of the Holocaust, because it’s also a precursor in terms of emotionally preparing people for mass murder, both bystanders and the actual perpetrators.

I became very interested in how difficult it was to develop a disability rights movement in the aftermath of the slaughter – people were crushed. There was shame that was attached to the families of people who’d been killed and there was strong popular identification with the doctors who were the perpetrators. It is deeply upsetting, that in many ways hostility to the disabled was made stronger by the mass murders. It took almost four decades to really get a feisty counter-movement going.

It took a lot of effort for the mass murder of Jews to become recognised as something that we now think of as one of the defining events of the twentieth century. That took effort against a lot of disinterest in centring that event. However this issue- the mass murder of the disabled – has taken even longer to become central to our discussions because of the persistence of hostility to the disabled.

I’m really interested in talking about the disability rights movement that emerges finally and how it eventually does learn how to find ways to set terms of discussion politically and culturally, but just as that’s happening – we’re in the twenty-first century – disability rights are getting turned against women’s rights to abortion. It’s the new wedge-issue for anti-abortion campaigners. They figured out a clever way to put leftists and feminists on the back foot by arguing that it’s awful to abort on the grounds of disability. They’re using the idea that abortion is being used “eugenically” in order to make people feel guilty and confused. What has happened is a lot of disability rights activists also oppose abortion on the grounds of disability and so there’s a confusion of categories between Left and Right.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to make an argument that says : this has to be a woman’s or a couple’s choice to take this on. It’s very difficult in every country in Europe at the moment – in 2009 in Germany, the parliamentary inquiry in the UK into abortion and disability in 2013, Spain in 2014, Hungary in 2012, Poland in 2016 – it shows you that it’s strategic. For many people it is sincere and deeply felt, but clearly it is also a moral wedge that divides people.

You may wonder what this has to do with LGBT, but one of the things I’m very interested in is that it’s actually LGBT activism that has provided the framework for disability rights, in at least 3 ways: the challenge to normative bodies; the challenge to what counts as a family form – disability “queers” families and calls attention to how interdependent we all are and brings into view the complexities for relationships that are needed for lives to flourish and be joyful; and LGBT’s insistence that pleasure and relationality are human rights has been a very important precursor to disability rights arguments as well. So I’m really interested in “queering” disability and showing what close links there are between those two movements.

Thursday 23 February: Trans Identities on Screen: Local and Global Perspectives

February 20, 2017
by Lewis Brennen

Join us in celebrating LGBT History Month 2017 with a free event on the subject of Trans Identities on Screen: Local and Global Perspectives, to be held on Thursday 23rd February at 6pm in Avenue 65/1133 (LTA).

The event will include a screening of Tchindas (Cape Verde, 2016) and THEY (UK, 2016), followed by a Q&A on queer and trans representation in film, with local artist and maker of THEY, Asten Holmes-Elliott, and Helen Wright, director of the Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF). Wine and snacks will be provided.

All are very welcome! Please do share with anyone you think may be interested, including UG/PG students. 

This event is kindly sponsored by the Department of Modern Languages, the Pulse LGBT+ Staff Network, and the AHRC-funded project Calling the Shots: Women and Contemporary UK Film Culture

With best wishes,

Eleanor K. Jones and Sophie Holmes-Elliott (Modern Languages)

LGBT+ History Exhibition and Talks at Winchester Discovery Centre

February 4, 2017
by Lewis Brennen

The Modern History Research Centre at the University of Winchester in partnership with Winchester Discovery Centre are happy to welcome you to the LGBT+ History Exhibition, which is on display at the Discovery Centre’s Wall Space until the 28th February 2017. This exhibition highlights current investigations taken by early-career researchers from different universities around the country. The panels explore historical perspectives, experiences and events of LGBT+ communities in modern history across different countries.LGBT History Exhibition

Please also join us for two free events on Friday 10th February at the Discovery Centre:

6:30-7:30pm, Discovery Centre’s Wall Space – LGBT+ History Exhibition: Discussion with exhibitors.

7:30-8:30pm, Discovery Centre’s Lecture Theatre – Public Lecture: Dr Emma Vickers (Liverpool John Moores University, author of Queen and Country: Same-sex desire in the British Armed Forces, 1939-1945) – ‘Sanctuary or sissy? Male cross-dressing as entertainment in the British Armed Forces, 1939-1945’: Following the end of the Second World War, revues like Pacific Showboat, Soldiers in Skirts, Forces Showboat, Misleading Ladies and Ralph Reader’s Gang Show capitalised on the appetite of audiences for ex-servicemen in drag. This lecture will consider how the populace of post-war Britain acquired their affection for ex-servicemen in drag through an examination of men in the British Armed Forces who informally cross dressed to entertain their colleagues during the Second World War. It will focus in particular on how these performances were understood by those who viewed them.

Queer Music, Queer Theory, Queer Music Theory

January 30, 2017
by Lewis Brennen

Congratulations to Dr David Bretherton (Music), who has been awarded £175,236.80 from the AHRC Leadership Fellowship Scheme (Early Career Route) towards his research project ‘Queer Music, Queer Theory, Queer Music Theory’.david_bretherton.jpg_SIA_JPG_fit_to_width_INLINE

The Fellowship will allow David to take a lead in re-energising the debate about the nature of ‘queer music’, and to play a decisive role in the re-conceptualisation of the problematic notion of queer music from a music-theoretical and -analytical perspective. Focusing on selected works from the last two centuries, by composers such as Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Copland, Britten and Finnissy, this research will explore the emergence of queer musicology and critique earlier research. It will then interrogate the concept of queer music through several music-analytical case studies organised around core ideas from the discipline of queer theory.

The notion that modern Western society is dominated by a ‘heteronormative’ discourse favouring heterosexual relationships and ‘normal’ gender behaviours will be particularly important, because its analogue, musical convention, when subverted is often dubiously interpreted as autobiographical evidence of a composer’s queerness. This project seeks more nuanced and thoughtful alternatives, and will align queer musicology with other approaches in the Humanities.

University of Winchester LGBT History Lecture and Public Exhibition

January 28, 2017
by Lewis Brennen

emma vickersFebruary is the month that celebrates diversity and the University of Winchester’s Modern History Research Centre (MHRC) invites a guest speaker to talk about their research connected to diversity in history. For this academic year the Centre has chosen the theme of LGBT history, and Dr Emma Vickers (Liverpool John Moores University) will talk about ‘Sanctuary or sissy? Male cross-dressing as entertainment in the British Armed Forces, 1939-1945’ on the 10th February 2017.

In connection to this public lecture event and in partnership with Winchester Discovery Centre, the MHRC is also organising an exhibition where ten Postgraduates and Early Career Researchers will produce research posters on historical perspectives and events of LGBT communities in modern history (eighteenth century to present), which will be displayed in the gallery of the Winchester Discovery Centre (with a formal opening of the exhibition on the 10th February).

Please come along. For more information contact Dr Xavier Guégan (


Southampton Stonewall Lecture, Thursday 9 February: Professor Dagmar Herzog

January 26, 2017
by John Cornwall

Dagmar HerzogThe 2017 Stonewall Lecture will take place in Lecture Theatre A (Avenue Campus) on Thursday 9 February 6pm. All welcome but please register with Tracy Storey: The 2017 speaker is Professor Dagmar Herzog (CUNY), one of the leading historians of sexuality and homophobia. She will be speaking about:


Why has same-sex desire often been associated with weak egos, strong drives, and narcissistic character disorders?
Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was never hostile to homosexuality. But post-Freudian analysts clung fiercely to a homophobic consensus, even if their reasoning changed under pressure of competing with sexuality researchers like Alfred Kinsey. This lecture will explain how homophobia and psychoanalysis evolved in tandem in the course of the sexual revolution of the 20th century. It explores how clever theory and activism finally got homosexuality removed from the official list of psychiatric illnesses – while reconceiving the connections between love and perversion for everyone.

The Southampton Stonewall Lecture is devoted to the history of homosexuality or LGBT history and is part of an annual lecture series organised by the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Southampton. The purpose of the lecture is to educate the present about the past; to showcase thinking and research about LGBT history; and to enhance the University of Southampton’s remit of promoting sexual diversity in the regional community.


The Gay Word documentary, Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Tottenham, London, 19 September 2015

September 10, 2015
by Laurence Georgin

ALL Welcome!

Doors open 17.00, film starts at 17.30 (run time 50 minutes)

The documentary will be followed by a Q&A with the producer, Amy Ashenden. There will also be a bar open til 22.00 with drinks and refreshments. Arrive early for the best seats!

Nearest tube: Seven Sisters, 5 min walk (take the High Road exit and continue towards Tesco, just past Haringey college bear left onto Town Hall Approach Road and the Bernie Grant Arts Centre is on your left).

Register at 

The Gay Word trailer: 

The Gay Word is a documentary about the recent trend of saying the word ‘gay’ negatively to mean rubbish, uncool, or embarrassing. Amy Ashenden travels around the South East of England to find out why some people have started to say ‘eurgh that’s gay’. Is it homophobic or has language evolved?

Amy Ashenden asks gay and straight people, young and old, why it makes certain people deeply offended and others less phased. At Stonewall’s HQ in the city centre of London, Amy speaks to the largest gay rights organisation in Europe, which is campaigning against the word ‘gay’ being used negatively, and travels to meet the university academic who claims it’s harmless. She also speaks to teachers, parents, a LGBT+ activist, a transgender male, and young people still in school to find out where the trend of saying “that’s so gay” negatively comes from, and if it should be stopped.

Amy Ashenden is a BA French and Spanish graduate from the University of Southampton. She freelances for the Guardian<>, is the former editor of the Guardian Student Website of the Year 2013, The Student Journals<>, and has previously produced Working for Nothing<> – a documentary about unpaid internships in the UK, which featured an interview with the leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett.

If you can’t go, there will be a showing of Amy’s work at the University in February. More about it soon!

The Unfinished Battle for LGBT Human Rights in the UK

March 3, 2014
by Carla Barrett

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In 1999, Britain had the largest number of anti-gay laws of any country in the world. Indeed, the criminalisation of homosexuality only finally ended in 2003. In just over a decade, we have made huge advances towards LGBT equality.

Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner and Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, will be giving the 4th annual Human Rights Lecture at the University of Southampton on 1st May 2014.

This event is hosted by Humanities, Business & Law and Amnesty International. For more information, including how to register for this event, please click here or contact Tracy Storey at