We stand with our trans students and staff and the wider trans community in denouncing the letter published in the Sunday Times authored by John Collins of UEA and others.
We disagree that respecting our trans students is at odds with academic freedom. To suggest that an academic debate on gender identity starts with questioning the identity of people in the room is farcical. University education should absolutely be academically challenging, students should (and do!) expect to be challenged academically at UEA what they can also reasonably expect is an environment which values and respects them as people whilst providing that challenge.
For academics waving the “free speech” flag of being able to contest gender identity of students in their classroom in one sentence of their letter to then cry out on the “intimidating atmosphere” of Stonewall in another sentence is absurd.
UEA makes near constant reference to how proud they are of NeverOK, our jointly owned culture change work. The scheme makes clear that discrimination against people based on their gender (including reassignment) is never ok – no matter if your motivation is “academic freedom”, “freedom to express [your] own personal opinions” or anything else.
We’re worried by conversations that we’ve had recently at University committees about the incredibly dedicated yet increasingly stretched Equality and Diversity team’s ability to deliver all of the training which aids understanding. To read in the UEA response to the letter, that the training course “An Introduction to Trans and Gender Identity” is open to all staff is false today and more likely to be false tomorrow as the ability of this team to deliver the range of training required shrinks in line with the “reduction in the capacity to provide equality training”. We’d like to see the University put more resource into training for all staff on trans and gender identity issues, making it mandatory rather than option, as it’s clear from the letter published that the signatories are ill-informed to say the least. We know and respect the fact that UEA is working to develop inclusive practices but what’s clear from this letter is that there is so much more to do just to. At a time when we’re addressing student mental health as a priority at UEA, we must recognise that our trans students are statistically some of the most at-risk students and that supporting this training is a part of ensuring their success at UEA.
In the same meeting, we heard how UEA wanted to empower allies networks which ‘call out’ homophobic attitudes in the workplace and we’re sure that the Executive Team would want to extend this scheme to transphobia in the workplace. Vice Chancellor, we have an incident we’d like to call out and ask for your support in addressing.
We’re saddened to see members of our community support this view during a month in which we both remember the Stonewall riots and host Pride in Norwich. It’s a stark and sad reminder to us that there’s still so much more to do in addressing LGBT+ issues at UEA and in the wider world.
There are times when people have a choice to make, to state their opinion and own the legacy of that decision. We’re confident that uea(su) will be remembered on the “right side of history” in terms of having stood shoulder to shoulder with our trans students and staff. A troublingly short time ago, other protected characteristics would have been trotted out as a “subject up for debate” – we’d hate to see our University and the people it employs remembered for being out-dated, regressive and ultimately damaging views.
We’d encourage any members of our community affected by this who require support to seek it from Student Support Services, (01603 592761 or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Liam Deary, SU LGBT+ Officer (Open Place)