Protest broke out in front of UCL provost’s office over Stonewall withdrawal

The uni’s decision to pull out of diversity schemes had students protesting for trans rights

Students swarmed UCL’s main quad outside the provost’s office from 3:30 to 5 pm on Wednesday, February 16, in protest of the uni’s withdrawal from Stonewall schemes in December. The withdrawal was described by some as “unnecessarily vindictive and insensitive.

The demonstration was scheduled to happen while the Provost, Michael Spence, met with committee members of the UCL LGBT+ Network, Trans Network, and LGBT+ Medics network on the matter.

The London Tab caught up with a key organiser of the protest afterwards on their goals and how they thought the event went.

Poster of the protest

What did you hope to achieve through the protest?

Flynn (he/him/they/them) told The London Tab that the protest was not organised by any campus network, but by individual students whose “goal was and continues to be rejoining Stonewall.”

“We were aware that chances would be very slim that this would happen immediately after this meeting and protest. However, it was very important for us to make clear to the Provost just how upset and betrayed we students feel.”

“Whether or not [Spence] now understands the consequence of UCL’s decision, I do think we have shown that we are angry and will not stop fighting until UCL makes the right decision,” he said.

Students carried posters saying things like “UCL says no to transphobia” and “trans rights are human rights”

Why is this protest and UCL’s decision to withdraw from Stonewall important?

Flynn said: “As a trans student at UCL, the decision to cut ties with Stonewall is appalling and frightening.”

“Although I am aware that the Stonewall programmes don’t directly affect me as a student (nor the research of the academics so protective of their academic freedom), it is all the more distressing that UCL would rather protect the academic freedom of their ‘gender critical’ staff from a non-existent threat than be held accountable for the safety and livelihood of their trans staff and student.”

Many students echoed this: Lara (they/them), a non-binary student at UCL, described the uni’s emphasis on academic freedom as something that “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?”

Many students disagree with UCL’s stance on academic freedom

As a committee member of the UCL Trans Network, Flynn heard the students and assure them that the network “will keep fighting for students’ safety.”

“This protest has shown that many people are on our side and will continue the fight with us,” he said.

Going forward, will there be further measures if UCL maintains its stance?

A protester described the protest as “depressing” and “disheartening” afterwards because of the lack of any outcome, but they are still committed to “keeping momentum going until staff hopefully change their mind about Stonewall.”

Flynn also found it “unfortunate but not surprising” that “UCL has shown no indication that they are willing to rejoin Stonewall.” But as a trans UCL student and member of the LGBTQ+ Network, he told The London Tab that “we will keep going until they understand that there is no other alternative for us students.”

“For example, there will be an open webinar with the Provost soon for students to share their thoughts and demands and we will be petitioning the academic board and UMC to reconsider the papers on which they based their decisions.”

Overall, while the protest didn’t end with any changes, Flynn is satisfied that organisers have managed to show with this protest “that there are many students who are happy to keep protesting until everyone can feel welcome at this institution.”

Lots of student showed up during reading week for the cause

In response to the protests and claims made against them, a UCL spokesperson told The London Tab: “We understand that there are members of our community who are upset and angry about UCL’s decision not to rejoin the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme or to submit to the 2023 Workplace Equality Index, and we respect the rights of our students to protest peacefully in line with UCL’s profound commitment to freedom of speech and expression.”

“UCL’s policies and protections for LGBTQ+ staff and students remain in place and are unchanged. We introduced policies to support trans members of our community some years before Stonewall started campaigning on trans rights, and we remain deeply committed to advancing the inclusion of trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming members of our 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.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

UCL formally cuts ties with LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall after ‘temporary’ withdrawal during Covid

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

Some UCL staff who voted to not rejoin Stonewall may have done so on ‘transphobic grounds’