Queer UCL student explains why Stonewall row has left them feeling hurt, excluded – but not hopeless

·4-min read

A queer University College London (UCL) masters student explains why the university’s decision to cut ties with Stonewall is so hurtful.

A few days ago, UCL became the first university to sever ties with Stonewall, the largest charity supporting LGBT+ rights in the UK.

The university announced that it would not be rejoining Stonewall’s Diversity Champions scheme or its Workplace Equality Index under the guise that these schemes could hinder “academic freedom.”

Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index rates employers on their policies and diversity schemes to ensure that LGBT+ folk can work in an inclusive environment, by allowing them to share their experiences. By choosing to opt out of this organisation, the impression given is that the safety and comfort of its LGBT+ community is not worth as much as so-called “academic debates about sex and gender” that are often used as a guise to propagate discrimination and hate speech. UCL prides itself on its “inclusivity, diversity and open-mindedness”, but this claim rings hollow.

I chose to pursue my MA in gender studies at UCL because I was impressed by how the course chose not only to focus on women’s studies, but a whole array of issues surrounding trans and non-binary people’s rights. It has also been one of the first times in my academic career that I have felt comfortable bringing up my own LGBT+ identity without being judged or stigmatised for doing so. I feel so frustrated to see that despite the inclusive atmosphere I’ve felt at UCL from my peers and my staff, the LGBT+ community appears to only matter within certain realms of academia, and not across the institution as a whole.

Throughout my first term at UCL, I was exposed to incredible academics conducting innovative work in the realm of queer studies, including aiming to explore LGBT+ nightlife and examining how the asylum-seeking process is experienced by LGBT+ people. Though UCL welcomes the contributions of queer academics, the administration still seems to value the opinion of those who share anti-trans thoughts and chooses to protect them over their queer community. A professor I spoke to within the qUCL research group, who wishes to remain anonymous, reiterates this.

Angel, a biomedical sciences student and the university’s LGBT+ Network officer, told me she’s always felt supported and comfortable speaking about LGBT+ issues alongside her coursemates and her lecturers. The problem, according to her, clearly comes from “upstairs.” She notes that the Academic Board were the ones responsible for the decision, with 60 per cent voting against re-joining Stonewall. In its response to UCL’s decision, the Student Union firmly announced that this decision was made against the wishes of the EDI committee. Despite the LGBT+ Network’s efforts to create safe spaces for the LGBT+ community at UCL, they remain ignored.

Nes, UCL’s Trans Officer, reiterates this dissonance. Despite their efforts within the Trans Network to create a safe space for students, they still do not feel fully comfortable as a queer person at UCL. “I rarely ever see people share their pronouns, it just puts me on edge preparing to get misgendered and the Union was pretty unwilling to pass a policy which would have students and staff do this,” they explain. This is why, like most of UCL’s queer community, Nes is frustrated by UCL’s decision, but not surprised. “The Stonewall decision is just further proof that UCL isn’t a place that welcomes and supports trans students in any meaningful way.”

This decision unfortunately sets a precedent for other universities to follow the same route as UCL and put their LGBT+ community at risk. Therefore, it’s imperative that the voices fighting for LGBT+ rights within the institution are listened to by everyone. Chloe, the LGBT+ Network’s Campaign Officer, still remains hopeful. “Since the decision went public, we have received responses showing frustration, anger, fear but mostly a desire of students to take action in it,” she states. The outrage towards the decision made by UCL has been spread across social media and other news outlets. It has also led to a petition and a student-led letter by the Writers’ Society aiming to reverse the decision. Chloe, alongside the team, hopes to organise “a letter-writing campaign and meeting with UCL management” to emphasise how hurtful the decision that UCL has made is to its community of students and staff.

In light of all the pain and negligence that the LGBT+ students and staff might be feeling, it is important to reiterate that the LGBT+ community at UCL still remains strong and cares for its members. There is rightful outrage that could be harnessed to create change. And if we keep the momentum going, there might be a chance for those higher-up to understand that their university is made better by its queer community. Ensuring it thrives is what makes UCL great.

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