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A Scottish First: Edinburgh Law School runs Masters course on LGBT+ rights

Tue 4 June 2024

Dr Paul Behrens, Mr Sean Becker and the students of the course 'LGBT Rights: A Legal Perspective

This semester, Edinburgh Law School made history by running a Masters course on the legal examination of LGBT matters titled 'LGBT Rights: A Legal Perspective'. It appears to be the first time that a course dedicated to this particular topic has been delivered by a Scottish university. On 21 May 2024, Edinburgh Law School’s Dr Paul Behrens gave a presentation about this course to the Cross-Party Group on LGBTI+, a group based at the Scottish Parliament that seeks to promote and discuss issues of importance to the LGBTI+ community in Scotland.  

The postgraduate course dealt with a wide range of topics, from human rights relating to LGBT+ issues to aspects of discrimination and the duties of states in this field. It explored criminalisation and decriminalisation of homosexuality and of transgender people around the world, but also examined the legalisation of same-sex partnerships and same-sex marriage in various states. Particular seminars were dedicated to transgender rights and to laws against conversion 'therapy' (efforts to turn a gay person straight or a transgender person cisgender) - topics which are at the forefront of public debate in Scotland today. 

The course was taught by Dr Paul Behrens, a Reader in Law at Edinburgh Law School and member of the Expert Advisory Group to the Scottish Government on Ending Conversion Practices, and by Sean Becker, an expert on judicial attitudes to LGBT+ matters. Together, they also edited one of the leading academic works in this field (‘Justice After Stonewall: LGBT Life Between Challenge and Change’, Routledge 2023). The participating students, who took the course as part of their Masters programme, came from various parts of the world in which LGBT rights are currently under vibrant debate, including India, Thailand, China, USA, Canada, and Belgium.

Dr Behrens said: “It was a privilege to teach the first LGBT+ Rights course in Scotland, but it was also challenging to try to accommodate so many fascinating topics in one semester. The situation in Scotland alone - the debates on the Gender Recognition bill and the draft bill on conversion practices - provide a wealth of material and ample opportunity for academic examination. Internationally, there are even more dramatic developments: in Uganda, we have recently seen the passage of a law that envisages the death penalty for some forms of same-sex activities. But there are developments in a positive direction too: while we were running the course, Greece became the 21st country of the Council of Europe to legalise same-sex marriage. It is important that these topics are explored in an academic setting. Teaching LGBT+ issues and debating them with interested students is a rewarding experience, and my hope is that more academics will feel encouraged to do so in the future.”

Dr Paul Behrens - Profile