LGBTQ+ Alumni: Historical and Contemporary

Sophie Zhang 2 February 2018

In its long history, Cambridge has been home to countless LGBTQ+ figures. In researching for this article, I discovered that Cambridge University has an extremely rich history of LGBTQ+ alumni and staff, however, this article unfortunately can only explore a few of them.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) is famously the economist who revolutionised economic thought and policy in the mid-20th century, emphasising the importance of government intervention in the economy for stability and growth. He studied mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge and was encouraged to become an economist, despite his early attraction to philosophy. Keynes was bisexual, and he openly dated men and was part of the Bloomsbury Group, noted for its liberal attitudes towards sexuality. Keynes’ interests were not limited to the economy, as he was also a keen campaigner for reform of the law on homosexuality and against discrimination towards women in the workplace.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is famous for being a philosopher of logic and language. Whilst studying aeronautics, he became engulfed in books exploring mathematics and philosophy, leading him to Trinity College, Cambridge. He had studied logic with such intensity that both Wittgenstein and his teacher, Russell, concluded that he had nothing left to study after just a year! After that, Wittgenstein wove in and out of academia, working also in the army, as a teacher in a village and as a hospital porter. He had romantic relationships with both men and women throughout his life. Having enjoyed such varied experiences, his last words were, “Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life.” Growing up through the Second World War,

Pat Arrowsmith (born 1930) became very aware of the miseries of war, and often thought about how it could be prevented. Her rebelliousness at school led her to be expelled at age 14, and this sense of rebelliousness would continue throughout her life. She studied history at Newnham College, Cambridge. She later co-founded the Campaign for Nuclear Disarment and would serve eleven prison sentences because of her political activities. Arrowsmith was a lesbian icon, being the first person to come out in ‘Who’s Who’ in 1977. She admitted that she only married a man in order to receive her inheritance, and her marriage was quickly annulled, whilst her inheritance was donated to political causes.

Kwame Anthony Appiah (born 1954) was born in London but raised in Ghana. Having studied philosophy at Clare College, Cambridge, he has gone on to become an renowned academic with interests in a diverse range of topics, including the philosophy of language and mind, race, cosmopolitanism, political and economic development, the work of African and African-American intellectuals and religion. He currently lives with his husband in the United States.

Sarah Brown studied at Trinity Hall and is a Liberal Democrat politician, who was the only openly transgender elected British politician for a number of years. She has campaigned for equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, openly discussing how such laws have affected her and her wife. Brown has used the hashtag “#transdocfail” on Twitter in order to highlight the poor treatment of transgender patients by the NHS.

Lord Smith of Finsbury (born 1951) served as a Labour MP for many years, becoming the first openly gay British MP in 1984, when he announced during a rally, “Good afternoon, I’m Chris Smith, I’m the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury and I’m gay.” As the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport under Blair, Lord Smith has successfully secured a tax rebate which allowed many museums to give free admissions. After 20 years of serving as an MP, Lord Smith stepped down and later became a life peer. In 2015, he returned to Pembroke College where he had studied English to become its Master.