Launch of flagship LGBT lecture series

The new biannual Michael Dillon LGBT+ Lectures aim to help shape the national and international conversation about LGBT+ issues, and will be at the centre of the University’s ongoing commitment to its LGBT+ community. The lectures will be delivered by LGBT+ individuals – from professions other than academia – who have reached a position of outstanding achievement in their particular field. 

The lectures will be hosted at St Anne’s College in tribute to the courage and determination of trans pioneer alumnus Michael Dillon, who attended the college (then The Society of Oxford Home-Students) from 1934 to 1938.

To mark the creation of this landmark lecture series, the University is hosting an online launch event, titled ‘LGBT Rights in a Time of Pandemic’ on Wednesday 18 November at 5.30pm. The event, open to all, will be introduced by Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson together with Principal of St Anne’s College Helen King and chaired by the BBC’s LGBT correspondent Ben Hunte.


 A distinguished panel of guests will discuss the formation of the lecture series, Michael Dillon’s life and legacy and the status of LGBT+ rights in this time of pandemic. The panel will include: 

  • Lord Smith of Finsbury, the first openly gay MP and Cabinet minister; 
  • Justice Edwin Cameron, former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa hailed by Nelson Mandela as “one of South Africa’s new heroes”; 
  • Zing Tsjeng, executive editor of Vice UK, BBC Sounds host, and author of The Forgotten Women book series; 
  • CN Lester, classical singer, curator, and author of trans like me; 
  • Jonathan Cooper OBE, human rights and international law barrister; 
  • Juno Roche, writer and trans rights campaigner.

We hope to inaugurate the lectures as soon as large in-person gatherings are possible again, and will announce the first Michael Dillon Lecturers in due course.

Frontline AIDS is a charitable organisation that has been on the frontline of the international response to HIV/AIDS for over twenty years. Its Rapid Response Fund, established in collaboration with the Elton John AIDS Foundation, provides life-saving support for LGBT+ people wherever they are most marginalised around the world. More information about Frontline AIDS is available  on their website.

About Michael Dillon

black and white photo of Michael Dillon

Michael Dillon

Michael Dillon was the first person in the UK to undergo hormone treatment and surgery for a female-to-male transition.

Assigned female at birth, Dillon read Classics at the Society of Home Students (now St Anne’s College) between 1934 and 1938. Dillon took up rowing alongside his studies and was elected president of the Oxford University Women’s Boat Club, where, as well as winning the Boat Race and earning a Blue, he successfully campaigned for women to race upstream, side-by side and over a longer distance.

Dillon confided in some friends and tutors about his discomfort with expectations that he live as a woman. A letter by Dillon, preserved in his college file, records his enthusiasm about the research of a Dr Zuckerman into the effects of hormone injections on rats. Dillon had met with Zuckerman on the recommendation of the Principal of St Anne’s. After Oxford, Dillon worked as a lab technician and mechanic while beginning an experimental course of testosterone. Before long he was able to pass as male, and by the 1940s he had undergone a double mastectomy and a phalloplasty (becoming the first man to do so).

He then decided to enroll for medical school at Trinity College Dublin. One of Dillon’s Oxford tutors persuaded the University Registrar to alter records to show that he had graduated from the (then) all-male Brasenose College rather than the (then) all-female St Anne’s College, thus facilitating Dillon to go on to compete in rowing for Trinity’s men’s crew.

Whilst working as a physician and despite his best efforts, unwanted attention was drawn to Dillon’s sex change by national newspapers. He responded by seeking out a Buddhist community in India where he changed his name to Lobzang Jivaka. In 1962 he died of an unexplained illness, having been the first Westerner to become a novice in the Theravadin order of the Hinayana school.

His memoir Out of the Ordinary: A Life of Gender and Spiritual Transitions was published in the year of his death.