‘Think twice about applying’: Students protest for trans rights during UCL open day

Protesters want their message to make prospectives ‘send their tuition fee money somewhere else’

UCL’s undergrad open day was “disrupted” by students protesting for the rights of trans and gender non-conforming students and staff at the uni.

This was the latest in a series of protests against UCL’s withdrawal from working with LGBT+ charity Stonewall on queer inclusion, which the uni justified by saying that it might restrict academic freedom around sex and gender.

Protesters thought this demonstration was their last resort to say: “UCL is not a safe place for us, any queer or questioning prospective student, any of these students’ friends, and especially anyone who is trans or gender non-conforming.”

In response, a UCL spokesperson told The London Tab they’re “very aware” of negative responses to their Stonewall decision and “respect the right of our students to peacefully protest.”

A protester at UCL’s open day (Credit: UCL LGBT+ Network)

Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme was a “clear external framework” that allowed the charity to assess and guide queer inclusion within the uni.

UCL’s University Management Committee (UMC), who finalised the decision to not participate, said they decided based on “the fundamental need to uphold academic freedom,” but The London Tab obtained an audio recording where a vice provost appeared to suggest the possibility of some staff voting on “transphobic grounds.” The vice provost later responded that their comment was “taken out of context.”

Many students and staff groups at UCL have been against the withdrawal both before and after the decision.

Two lesbian protesters at the open day protest told The London Tab: “We gathered on UCL Campus on Friday and Saturday to express our continued discontent with UCL’s withdrawal from Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme.

“The fact that UCL did this despite the advice and the will of LGBTQIA+ community on and off campus makes this act a cruel attack on LGBTQIA+ rights, as well as body ownership politics.

“LGBTQIA+ community should be able to talk about their needs, their pains, their desires and joys, without the fear of backlash from rude and crude ideologues who are still attempting to erase us by recycling buzzwords and a coarse form of biological essentialism that were used to oppress racial, gender, and sexual minorities throughout history.”

A poster at the open day protest (Credit: UCL LGBT+ Network)

And despite the university denying any negative consequences of the withdrawal, a speaker at the protest thought the decision led to “students feeling unsafe” and “hateful actions on campus,” citing the “transphobic” sticker found in a UCL toilet earlier this month.

They continued: “For more than six months, we have tried talking to UCL, [but our efforts were] without success. We have been shunted from committee to working group to committee, and our concerns have not adequately been addressed.

“Therefore, we did the only thing we had left to do: tell prospective students the truth about UCL, and advise them to send their tuition fee money somewhere else.”

Some students also challenge the “academic freedom” argument that UCL used to justify the decision to withdraw from Stonewall.

A student who prefers to remain anonymous claimed some academics may be damaging UCL’s scholarly standards by misrepresenting and manipulating research about gender and sex to “advance the interests of political ideology.”  

They said: “As students, we have a responsibility to call out when these academics are taking advantage of their positions of authority and placing UCL into disrepute by publishing politically motivated and poorly researched work.”

They also call on the provost to “demonstrate he is not simply paying lip service to the values of UCL, but listen to the unanimous voice of every LGBT organisation at the university and rejoin Stonewall.”

“Marking your own homework is not good enough,” they said.

Flyers distributed as part of the protest (Credit: UCL LGBT+ Network)

In response, a UCL spokesperson told The London Tab: “We are very aware that there are members of our community who feel upset and angry about UCL’s decision last year not to rejoin Stonewall, and we acknowledge their deep feelings.

“This decision does not mean that we are any less committed to upholding the rights of LGBTQ+ staff and students. We have an unwavering commitment to advancing the inclusion of trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming members of our community, and 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 have policies and protections in place for LGBTQ+ staff and students and have recently established the LGBTQ+ Equality Implementation group which is developing a strong programme to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ staff and students, as well as alumni and visitors, at UCL.

“We also respect the right of our students to peacefully protest and we will continue to listen and respond to concerns raised by our community on this and any other issues.”

Related stories recommended by this writer:

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

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

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