In the news: Steve Wharton

April 9, 2004

"I would hope that my sexuality is totally irrelevant," Steve Wharton said this week on his election as president of the Association of University Teachers for 2005-06.

But this did not stop the union shouting about it in its press release on the appointment. "AUT elects first 'out' gay president", it said. Perhaps labouring the point just a little, it continued: "It is believed Dr Wharton will be the second 'out' gay president of a TUC-affiliated union" - after Gerard Kelly, former president of AUT sister union Natfhe.

The union's media managers no doubt remain keen to finally shake off a lingering old-fashioned image that can sometimes still surround the AUT, despite leadership from a female general secretary, Sally Hunt. (The union also celebrated the appointment this week of its first-ever Asian vice-president - Birmingham University lecturer Gargi Bhattacharyya - who said: "I see this result as a belated recognition of all the Asian women who have fought for their rights as workers.") Dr Wharton is a senior lecturer in French and communication at Bath University, and his sexuality and gay rights activism has played a significant role in his work. He is listed by the university as an expert in homosexuality in Britain and France, gay and lesbian activism in Britain and France, and the pink economy.

But his work goes way beyond gay issues. He is an expert on "propaganda, political marketing and occupied France" and is a former honorary secretary and current member of the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France. He also sits on the Department for Education and Skills high-level Higher Education Research Forum for England.

Dr Wharton said: "If people, within or outside the union, see [my sexuality] as a demonstration of our commitment to a fairer society, then it is no bad thing."

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