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UoB advice warns staff and PhD students on Dubai campus they face arrest if discovered to be trans

The university’s Rainbow Network produced a document for PhD students and staff on the Dubai campus

UoB have warned staff and PhD students going to the Dubai campus to keep their sexuality secret and that they might be arrested if they're found to be trans.

Advice issued by the uni's Rainbow Network, with help from UoB's Legal Services and Equality and Diversity team, also tells staff and students to change their next of kin if it's a same-sex partner.

The document states it is "inadvisable to travel to Dubai unless your legal documentation (including passport) matches your (perceived) [gender]"; recommends changing a next of kin from a same sex partner to another family member; and advises to "avoid disclosing your or your family’s LGBTQ identities, or displaying advocacy for LGBTQ equality, in any parts of your social media profiles".

Despite claims that the university provides a safe space for its staff and students, the document contains the harrowing warning "you may be denied access to the country, deported, or arrested if you are discovered to be trans". The University has since responded, telling The Birmingham Tab: "Our approach has been to find common ground between our strongly held belief in fairness and equality and the equally important need to ensure, as far as is possible, the safety of our staff and students."

This comes after UoB academics voted to boycott the Dubai campus, along with other discontent from students considering the United Arab Emirates' hostile treatment of LGBTQ+ citizens. Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill raised "serious concerns" over the opening of the campus last year.

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Preet Kaur Gill, Edgbaston MP

The Rainbow Network have issued this advice following months of students asking if their safety can be guaranteed on the Dubai campus, namely at Vice Chancellor's Question Time.

In spite of university officials avoiding the subject since the campus' opening in December 2018, advice now includes: "If you need to leave Dubai urgently e.g. because you have been outed as LGBTQ or reported to the authorities because you or a family member have been perceived to be LGBTQ, speak to the Dubai Provost or Director of Operations as soon as possible to discuss any advice or assistance that the University may be able to offer."

The document even included a link to an article about a Briton being imprisoned for touching a man's hip in Dubai, as an example to illustrate the advice "do not do anything that may be perceived as a public display of affection, either same sex or opposite sex, even if it is intended to be innocent".

The document outlines other measures staff and students should take in Dubai: "Do not wear any clothes or accessories which could be considered to be a form of LGBTQ advocacy, and do not take any possessions with an explicit LGBTQ theme which may be discovered at customs.

"Do not wear LGBTQ lanyards or pin badges (e.g. Rainbow Network or LGBTQ Ally Network) at any time, and do not display any other associated merchandise such as mugs or postcards in your workplace."

The Rainbow Network told The Birmingham Tab: "The top priority of the Rainbow Network committee, and the reason for producing this list of top tips, is to support the safety and wellbeing of University of Birmingham staff and PhD students, and this is our goal in providing this advice. This does not compromise our overarching objective of creating a workplace where everybody is free to express their identity freely without fear of consequence."

Birmingham UCU have come out in solidarity with UoB LGBTQ+ members, tweeting "sadly this is not an April Fools".

Speaking to The Birmingham Tab, Birmingham UCU said: "This shows that we were right to warn the University of the serious risks to the safety and wellbeing of UoB staff and students on the new Dubai campus. Despite our repeated warnings the University has failed to consult, or negotiate with, any of the recognised trade unions, with the LGBTQ students association, or with the Guild in a meaningful way and have instead pushed ahead regardless.

"We remain deeply concerned that staff and students will be at risk of arbitrary detention and to date the University's only response has been to issue guidance that puts the responsibility entirely onto individual staff and students without any regard to their duty of care. We have already come across cases in which staff have been asked to remove references to gender, sexuality and religion on Dubai course materials, which is in breach of the University's Statutes on academic freedom that guarantee our right to teach without fear of state repression and seriously undermines our education. We continue to call on all staff to follow our boycott of the University of Birmingham Dubai campus."

The University of Birmingham offered this statement to The Birmingham Tab: "As the University increases its global presence, the challenge remains how to translate our strongly held commitment to equality and diversity in countries that have significant legal, social and cultural differences to the UK. In addressing this issue, our approach has been to find common ground between our strongly held belief in fairness and equality and the equally important need to ensure, as far as is possible, the safety of our staff and students.

"Our focus remains supporting the safety and wellbeing of staff and students in Dubai. As is consistent with Stonewall advice, it is of course important that we take steps to avoid unintentionally outing LGBTQ employees and students, or their partners, in the UAE.

"The top tips document has been produced by the Rainbow Network following extensive discussion with members and the University to define what would be helpful guidance and will continue to be updated on this basis alongside a range of other advice for staff working on the Dubai campus."

The university have refused to cooperate with the UCU after their mission for an official academic boycott of the campus, and in February signed a long-term agreement with TECOM, a subsidiary company of an organisation with a record of human rights abuses, reportedly for £100m.

Featured image: UoB academics voting to boycott the Dubai campus.