I grew up in the Highlands of Scotland (in a village called Tongue), with the expectation that I would always go to Edinburgh University, which was indeed where I ended up in 1984. I studied Biological Sciences, but if I'm being honest, I found it difficult to settle into academic life. While I was doing OK, the focus of my degree, pharmacology with physiology, was a poor choice on my part, and I struggled to complete my third year. But that was when I discovered botany. And I absolutely fell in love with the subject. The degree was hugely varied, from experimental work in the laboratory, to fieldtrips on peatlands and along the coastlines of Scotland. And the department was small and close-knit, and that allowed me to flourish. At the same time I was very active in the student Volunteering Service, and was a member of Nightline as well.
Being LGBTQ in the 1980s, especially in Scotland, was pretty difficult. The vilification from the government, the press, and people in general was toxic. AIDS and HIV were dominating news headlines, and then the Government brought in Clause 28, which became Section 28, and this galvanised LGBTQ people into a community to fight for our right to be respected. This was when I started to actively fight for LGBTQ rights, which I still do today, and was when I met my partner David, who was also a student at Edinburgh University at the same time, and we are still together today, some 33 years later!
And although I didn’t realise it at the time, my academic path has often been buffeted by being out and open as a gay man. I’ve been verbally abused and threatened at conferences, and told to “tone-down” my gayness. Equally, I now recognise that I’ve benefited immeasurably by being a white cis man, and all the privileges that that brings in UK academia. So I am currently very proud of being part of The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEMM (TIGERS), and for working with others to make UCL a more inclusive place to study and work, celebrating difference within our academic communities. Excerpt from LGBTQ at Edinburgh in the 1980s and beyond University of Edinburgh, 2020