Promoting Transgender Equality in Higher Education Institutions

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2020 Higher Education Service Group Conference
26 September 2019

Conference will recall carrying the motion ‘Trans inclusion in higher education workplaces’ in 2017 welcoming trans members active participation in UNISON and accepting trans equality must be addressed in all workplaces. This motion also endorsed the recommendations of the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry into Transgender Equality, which called for higher education institutions (HEIs) to take proactive steps to promote trans equality, including gender identity awareness training, for all university staff.

UNISON welcomed this call because we have strong evidence that workplace discrimination remains all too common. Research published by the Equality Challenge Unit in 2009 revealed that 23% of trans staff in Higher Education reported that they had been denied a promotion due to their trans status. A 2018 Stonewall report details gender identity-based verbal and even physical abuse in British universities and two thirds of trans members had experienced or witnessed discrimination in UNISON’s 2016 equality survey.

Conference commends higher education institutions that have provided gender identity awareness training for their staff and those that have taken proactive steps to promote trans equality by, for example, having a Transgender Champions scheme for their non-trans staff. The Stonewall Diversity Champions programme offers one such model which addresses the marginalisation some trans and gender diverse people are vulnerable to, which can lead to heightened risks of self-harm and depression, particularly in circumstances where identity denial robs them of a safe environment. Inclusive policies which recognise trans people, their gender identities, names, and pronouns, have a measurably positive impact upon their wellbeing.

Conference applauds the prompt support of 3600 staff working in higher education who registered their names to a letter backing “policies and practices which are inclusive and supportive of our trans colleagues and students”. This was a response, within just 2 days, to a critical letter, signed by 34 UK academics, to the Sunday Times on 16 June 2019 claiming Stonewall’s Diversity Champions training created an “intimidating atmosphere…in tension with academic freedom”. The rebuttal letter, organised by the University of Sheffield’s Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock, states that respect for gender identities is a duty of care that cannot “be considered antithetical to academic freedom.” Conference believes that academic freedom is not a licence to deny someone’s human dignity, just as free speech is not a defence for discrimination.

Conference notes there are still many workplace policies and procedures to be reviewed for unnecessary gendering and urges all branches and equality reps to ensure their institution’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion units are tasked with making them as gender neutral as possible. It is likely that students’ unions have already developed their own good practice on trans inclusion and are asking for student policies and procedures to be reviewed also.

Should any Higher education workplace reps not feel confident addressing transphobia or supporting trans members, Conference recommends UNISON’s bargaining factsheet on trans workers equality and the separate guidance for reps supporting trans members, both of which are regularly updated.

Conference calls on the Higher Education Service Group executive to:

1)Promote UNISON’s trans workers’ rights guidance, urging branches, allied with students’ unions where possible, to insist that workplace policies and procedures are gender neutral where unnecessary gendering has been used;

2)Remind branches to use the UNISON guide for reps and the activist resources available in UNISON’s regional LGBT+ groups and national trans network, to increase awareness and confidence addressing trans equality and gender identity issues;

3)Support and promote the call from the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry into Transgender Equality (2016) for all higher education institutions to provide staff with gender identity training, proactive steps to promote trans equality and a trans champions scheme;

4)Liaise with UNISON’s National LGBT+ Committee to publicise and endorse the University of Sheffield’s support letter for LGBTQIA+ people (7369 responses on 26 September 2019).