Taking Pride in our research – focus on Dr Peter Dunne

In today’s blog we talk to Dr Peter Dunne about his fascinating work around LGBTQ+ rights and legal reform. If you ever wanted to find recent, relevant and meaningful research in this area then look no further!

What is the main focus of your research?

My research focuses on LGBTI+ rights. I’m particularly interested in both diverse family units and how the rights of LGBTI+ people have been affected by the European Union in recent decades. I work on all types of questions, including who can get married, how best to protect LGBTI youth and how the law should shape experiences of gender and sexuality. I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to work in a significant number of inspiring collaborators – in academia, civil society and the policy sphere.

In recent years, my scholarship and policy work has touched upon a number of less obvious or less visible questions, such as male pregnancy. In the United Kingdom, one of the positive aspects of our gender recognition laws (although, I do still think that these laws need to be updated) is that individuals can legally amend their gender without compromising their capacity to have children.

This raises the question of how the law can and should respond where people reproduce outside traditional expectations. An example might be a person, who is legally male, but who decides to conceive and give birth to a child. This is an issue which politicians, judges and policy-makers are increasingly trying to address, both in England and Wales, and in Europe. My research explores this subject from different angles. I also served as an expert in a recent case regarding this question in England and Wales.

What is the main motivation behind your work?

I think that there is often a perception that, within the UK, progress for LGBTI+ people has been unidirectional. Both as a matter of law and social acceptance, we sometimes assume that the situation for LGBTI+ in this country is almost universally positive. Of course, in a comparative context, where we look around other parts of Europe, it is true that some LGBTI+ people in this country experience relative levels of equality and non-discrimination. Yet, many problems remain – both in terms of legal rights (or an absence thereof) and in the lived-experience of LGBTI people. At least in terms of my work on domestic LGBTI+ rights, I am motivated to identify and explain outstanding gaps or problems in our current legal and social frameworks, and to think about ways, big and small, that we might be able to improve the equality and well-being of LGBTI+ communities in this country.

Do you find you get a positive response, or do you feel you’re always meeting resistance to this kind of research?

I think that, within academia, there is a real appetite for understanding how laws, social structures and cultural practices negatively impact the lives of LGBTI+ populations. In recent times, the UK, particularly our different funding bodies, has been good in terms of providing resources for LGBTI+-focused research, and in encouraging and creating relevant conversations within academic spaces. At present, there are numerous academics across the UK who are undertaking really important studies into the lives and experiences of LGBTI+ communities.

My perception is that, within the wider public sphere, it has become, within the last five years, more difficult to respectfully discuss the rights and experiences of LGBTI+ individuals, in a manner which acknowledges the dignity and humanity of the people involved. As an academic, I have a strong commitment to free expression and robust debate. Furthermore, as somebody who is interested in policy reform, I understand that proposed legislative changes, whether or not directed towards LGBTI+ populations, must be subject to appropriate scrutiny. Yet, I worry that, increasingly, our public conversations, particularly about gender and sexuality, disregard the dignity and humanity of those most affected. Furthermore, free speech works both ways. While individuals have the right to critique LGBTI+ rights, so too they must accept pushback against their own comments. Free speech protects both opposition to LGBTI+ rights and those who would criticise that opposition,

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about going into research and the challenges they might face?

For anybody who’s thinking about doing research in the area of LGBTI+ rights, I would say it is a hugely rewarding area of scholarship. In the social sciences, there are a number of questions out

there which remain unanswered, so I’d say it is a very exciting time to be doing doctoral work, post-doctoral work, or even undergraduate dissertations. Every year, I read dissertations from undergraduates who write on issues relating to LGBTI+ rights and it is always fantastic work. It’s really inspiring, and I hope that a number of these students will consider further research after their degrees.

And lastly, how will you be celebrating Pride?

Well, I’ll be celebrating Pride by doing quite a lot of marking! But I’ll also be celebrating how much the community has come on. I’m definitely not going to say there aren’t challenges, but even in the face of those challenges, there are people doing fantastic work. So, I’ll be spending time with friends, attending Pride-related events and taking the opportunity to engage in the research that inspires me!

 

A big thank you to Peter for giving up his time to talk to us.  If you would like to know more about how we are celebrating Pride please visit our Pride webpage. And if you have your own stories to share about Pride or being part of the LGBTQ+ community please get in touch: student-comms@bristol.ac.uk. 

#BristolUniPride #BristolPride

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