‘Vindictive and insensitive’: Students and staff slam UCL decision to cut ties with Stonewall

UCL thinks Stonewall shifted has shifted its focus from ‘advancing gay rights’ to ‘promoting gender self-identification’

Students and staff have slammed UCL’s decision to cut ties with the LGBTQ+ organisation Stonewall.

A spokesperson for UCL’s LGBTQ+ Equality Steering Group said: “We feel both the decision and the timing of the announcement are unnecessarily vindictive and insensitive to the LGBTQIA+ community at UCL, especially as we are about to start the winter vacation.”

UCL has responded in a statement, saying, “We are very aware that there are members of our community who feel upset and angry about UCL’s decision to rejoin Stonewall, and we acknowledge their deep feelings.”

UCL’s Academic Board recently upheld the decision to cut ties with the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme, despite heavy opposition from many large groups at UCL, including the Students’ Union.

In a leaked letter, the Academic Board justified the decision by arguing that Stonewall has shifted its focus from “advancing gay rights” to “promoting gender self-identification.”

The leaked letter

Many students within the LGBTQ+ community have spoken out online to share their opposition to the decision.

Students within the organisation Out@UCL asserted that “there was absolutely no trans representation and no recognition was given that LGBTQI+ members of the Academic Board might have particular insights into the issues discussed.”

The UCL LGBT+ Network described the news as a “huge blow to the entire community of LGBTQ+ students at UCL, who feel less safe and supported in the wake of this decision.”

Students’ Union UCL also released a statement saying “removing [the Stonewall schemes] has the potential to create an environment where gender prejudice and transphobic language is justified under the guise of academic freedom.

The union is concerned by this, saying all “trans people deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and humanity in our university – this is not an issue on which we can learn to disagree well.” 

Many students and staff have expressed their opinions on Twitter.

This tweet points out an article on “Cancel Culture” written by the UCL President for the UCL Alumni Magazine. In said article, President and Provost Dr Michael Spence writes: “[UCL] is a place that takes trans rights very seriously, for example, but it’s also a place that is home to many gender-critical feminists, and each of these communities has a platform.”

Some of UCL’s own academics have also spoken out in opposition to the decision, despite the Academic Board arguing that the decision to withdraw from Stonewall is for their own benefit.

Lara (they/them), a non-binary student at UCL, said to The London Tab:

“In a time where transgender and non-binary people already face significant hostility in the UK, this decision is incredibly worrisome. The reasoning given of a need to protect ‘academic debates about sex and gender identity’ effectively greenlights the use and popularisation of transphobic language and arguments in UCL, which places the safety of an already deeply marginalised group at risk.

“‘Freedom of speech’ is a common excuse used by so-called ‘gender critical’ feminists who wish to be able to discriminate freely against trans and non-binary people. If your free speech promotes discrimination against an already marginalised group, how is it anything but hate speech?

“This decision will do nothing but legitimise anti-LGBTQ, particularly anti-trans sentiment under the thinly-veiled guise of ‘academic freedom.’ UCL has a duty to protect its students and staff from discrimination, but this decision does nothing but sanction hate in university halls. I hope UCL’s Academic Board think critically about this decision and will reconsider.”

A UCL spokesperson said: “We are very aware that there are members of our community who feel upset and angry about UCL’s decision not to rejoin Stonewall, and we acknowledge their deep feelings.

“We are absolutely committed to working for the full inclusion of trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students and staff within the UCL community. We are determined that UCL will become an environment in which everyone is able to be themselves, and is respected as a valued member of the university.

“We are establishing an LGBTQ+ Equality Implementation group which will build on our existing work and engage representatives of the LGBTQ+ community at UCL to develop a strong programme of action that tackles all forms of inequality, marginalisation, and discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ colleagues and students.

“If you’ve experienced harassment, violence or abuse, remember that it’s never your fault, and UCL is here to support you. We have a wide range of comprehensive support services available, should you need it, including support from external organisations. In an emergency, if you witness or experience a crime on campus, call UCL Security available 24/7 on +44 (0)20 7679 2222 or 222 from any UCL phone.

“Our student support and well-being team are available to support our community. UCL provides a confidential counselling and information service to students 365 days a year, as well as same day appointments. Anyone wanting to contact this can call +44 (0) 20 7679 0100 or go to https://www.ucl.ac.uk/students/askucl.”

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