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What is the Gender Expression Fund and why every college should have one

Clare, Girton, Robinson and Jesus are the first colleges to adopt the scheme

Last November, the Union of Clare students (UCS) set up the Gender Expression Fund to support trans and non-binary students. The £150 annual fund is used to reimburse students who purchase items to help them feel comfortable with their gender presentation. According to the UCS website these include, but are not limited to “binders, packers, concealing underwear, wigs, and breast forms.”

Robinson set up a similar Gender Expression Fund last term. This term, both Girton and Jesus have followed the same model, establishing funds of their own. These colleges seek to create a welcoming and caring community, where people of all genders and sexualities are accepted and provided necessary support.

The funds work on a case-by-case basis with students having the opportunity to make a confidential application. The recommended maximum is currently £40 per student per year, but UCS said this is “subject to increase or decrease depending on the availability of funds and individuals’ circumstances.”

Other colleges should also adopt this model if they wish to create a similar environment. £150 is a tiny fraction of a Cambridge college’s budget, but can go a long way in supporting trans and non-binary students to buy financially inaccessible items.

Why is the fund necessary?

Items of clothing that trans and non-binary students purchase to help them feel comfortable are often very expensive. Correctly sized clothing, binders and packers can be particularly difficult to find in the UK, and shipping costs from the US contribute to the already steep prices. This can be difficult for students living on a tight budget, especially those from low-income backgrounds.

The inability to buy necessary items can cause distress for students, who feel that their appearance and gender identity aren’t aligned. Gender dysphoria can significantly impact people’s wellbeing and mental health, and can be exacerbated by this issue.

The JCR President of Clare College, Dan Wright, who first proposed the scheme, speaks about his motivation for setting up the fund: “I knew from talking to trans friends and family that the issue of money during transition was an important one, particularly for people already facing great financial burdens. A lot of the things which do help some trans people feel more comfortable in their gender presentation are actually prohibitively expensive.

“Allocating money to a Gender Expression Fund – which, by the way, has been successful at many Oxford colleges but not translated to Cambridge before now – was the right thing to do to try to help our fellow students.”

How do I set up the fund at my college?

Speak to your LGBT+ officer or rep. They may not be aware of the fund and will most likely be very keen to promote it.

Sarah Merrick, LGBT+ rep at Girton, said that the scheme was very easy to set up: “It was very easy to set up the Gender Expression Fund in Girton! Our fab JCR treasurer, Kenji Asakura, added it to my budget and it was okay-ed by college with no issues whatsoever”.

I hope that more colleges adopt this scheme.

It’s simple and very little hassle to set up, and it sends a positive message to trans and non-binary students, welcoming and supporting them to ensure they feel as comfortable as possible in Cambridge.

Cover photo credit: Beth Kelly