Trans equality in higher education – louder and prouder!

Back to all Motions

2022 Virtual Higher Education Conference
14 October 2021

The toxic debate ignited by the United Kingdom government’s consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act underlined the importance of our union, including branches in the Higher Education Service Group, supporting and representing our trans members effectively

Attacks on trans people escalated further in 2021. Groups trying to roll back the rights of trans people have encouraged supporters to lobby public bodies to replace ‘gender’ in their equality policies with ‘sex’ and claim that some have agreed to do so.

There has been a sustained attack on Stonewall’s trans inclusive Diversity Champions programme, which many universities are members of. The programme gives advice, support and resources to employers on meeting their statutory requirements under the Equality Act 2010 and provides support and tools for organisations to improve their practice beyond the legal minimum. There have been repeated false claims that Stonewall is misinterpreting the Equality Act’s protected characteristic of gender reassignment in its advice to organisations. Stonewall’s advice is based on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act Code of Practice, which was reaffirmed by the High Court in May when it threw out an attempt by one of the co-founders of the anti-trans LGB Alliance to launch a judicial review against the EHRC’s guidance.

These attacks are being coordinated to undermine support for Stonewall’s work on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT+) equality at work.

The tactics being used by those campaigning to roll back the existing rights of trans people, including ‘gender critical’ and anti-trans groups, are almost identical to the tactics seen around the time of Section 28, when gay men were portrayed as sexual predators and a danger to children to spread fear and mistrust.

Conference recognises that recent years have seen a concerted international campaign against trans people, and there is growing evidence of this being linked to the far right.

Conference notes that:

1)The Southern Poverty Law Centre in the United States (US) reported that in 2017, at an annual right-wing, fundamentalist event called the Values Voter Summit, transphobia was discussed as a tactic to be deployed, because rallying against homosexuals was not working any more, One of the far-right panellists said: “Trans and gender identity are a tough sell, so focus on gender identity to divide and conquer…trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimise them…If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success”.

2)The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation’s study on the evolution of extremism in the first 100 days of the Biden Administration found that “Transphobia has long been one of the most major and ubiquitous narratives around which the far right mobilises… Transphobia should be recognised as a security concern”.

3)Some anti-trans individuals and groups in the UK have links with far fight and alt right religious groups in the US and elsewhere.

4)Targeting a minority, and spreading false information to provoke hatred and distrust by preying on people’s fears, are classic far right recruitment tactics.

UNISON’s position is clear: trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid. Conference recognises, however, that UNISON must now become more visible and more vocal in promoting Trans equality inside and outside the union.

Conference therefore calls on the Higher Education Service Group Executive to work with the National LGBT+ Committee and other parts of the union as appropriate to:

a)Explore ways to increase the strength and visibility of UNISON’s work to promote Trans equality in universities;

b)Encourage higher education branches, working with student unions where possible, to urge employers to join the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme if they are not already members;

c)Promote UNISON Trans ally training widely within the service group;

d)Produce and promote materials to help members in higher education to counter the gender critical narrative and provide information on the links between the gender critical movement in the UK and the far right.