Long-time LGBTQ+ rights activist awarded Honorary Degree

A singer-songwriter and broadcaster famous for his long-time political activism has been awarded an Honorary Degree by the University of Leicester at a ceremony today (Friday 21 January).

Tom Robinson, founder of the eponymous Tom Robinson Band (TRB), embraced the emerging gay scene in the 1960s and 70s and became heavily involved with the politics of gay liberation, linking LGBTQ+ rights to wider issues of social justice.

The band’s newsletters contained information about gigs alongside updates on political causes, many of which found their way into Tom’s lyrics. TRB was a founder member of Rock Against Racism and went on to headline the famous 1978 Victoria Park concert.

TRB’s punk-era anthem 2-4-6-8 Motorway hit the UK top 10 in 1977 and in 1978 Glad to be Gay entered the top 20 despite a BBC ban.

Speaking today, Tom Robinson, Honorary Doctor of Letters, said: “My relationship with Leicester goes back to playing De Montfort Hall in the 1970s, first supporting Barclay James Harvest and then headlining with the TRB, and was pleased to be invited to deliver a talk at the University of Leicester for LGBT History Month in 2017.

“As a fan of Leicester’s most famous gay son, Joe Orton, I am delighted to receive this honour of a Doctorate from the University.”

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor said: “I am delighted to recognise the long-standing passion and activism of Tom Robinson with this most well-deserved honour.

“He is a champion of a world for all; wherever he sees injustice, Tom’s voice has been an ever-present demand for equality and fairness on a wide-reaching number of issues related to LGBTQ+ rights.

“He represents a true Citizen of Change, and I wish to congratulate him on joining our University community as an Honorary Graduate.” 

Born in 1950, Tom fell in love with another boy at school at a time when male homosexuality was still criminalised in Britain. His subsequent emotional distress led to a suicide attempt at 16 and he spent the next few years at Finchden Manor, a therapeutic community in Kent. There he played in various bands and was a dedicated listener to John Peel’s show on the pirate station Radio London.

A visit to Finchden by the legendary bluesman Alexis Korner inspired Tom to move to London and pursue a musical career.

Following the success of TRB, in the 1980s Tom began presenting radio programmes, winning a gold Sony Award in 1997 for You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, a documentary about queer music. He has been a presenter on BBC 6 Music since its launch, winning a second Sony in 2011. Tom curates the BBC Introducing Mixtape and is now regarded as a champion of emerging songwriters.

He continues to work as a songwriter and musician – having co-written songs with Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché – and is still touring as he enters his seventies.

These are the first in-person Graduation ceremonies taking place at the University of Leicester since January 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information, visit le.ac.uk/graduation.