University of Leeds trans protection rollback stopped by petition

Kaosu Narvna reports on the attempt of Leeds University to revert their Equality Policy, possibly endangering trans staff and students.

Kaosu Narvna
23rd March 2021
Image: Wikipedia
In 2020 the University of Leeds attempted to overwrite their 2017 Trans Equality Policy in exchange for regressive terminology that could put trans staff and students at risk.

Chris Minas, the Trans Welfare Officer of Leeds University Union’s LGBT+ Society has since run a successful petition with over 4600 supporters, leading to the reinstatement of the 2017 policies.

The petition and the University's student newspaper, The Gryphon, argued that the new equality policies suggested by the institution were regressive.

Minas stated in the petition: “Rather than improving on the previous policy, the University has decided to take a backward approach in replacing previous concrete language with vague and feeble promises of ‘aiming to’ and ‘striving for’ equality.”

2020 appointed Vice-Chancellor Simone Buitendijk supported transphobic and anti-trans tweets and blogs in 2019

The Equality Policy Unit’s (EPU) November 2020 update post and The Equality and Inclusion Framework 2020-25 include no specific information on how trans and broader LGBTQ+ inclusivity and equality will be achieved.

Additionally, the EPU reportedly did not consult any trans member of the student and faculty bodies, furthermore, they allegedly neglected feedback given to them after completing their policy drafts.

The previous equality policies on trans matters were described as clear, straightforward, and enforceable. They ensured equal access to courses and opportunities regardless of identity or transition status, and promise to maintain confidentiality about a person’s identity.

These equality policies stated: “To ‘out’ someone, whether staff or student, without their permission, is a form of harassment and, in a number of contexts may amount to a criminal offence.” This supportive and specific version of the policy is now the only one accessible on the University of Leeds’ website.

“The University has decided to take a backward approach in replacing previous concrete language with vague and feeble promises”

Chris Minas, the Trans Welfare Officer of Leeds University Union’s LGBT+ Society

This 2020-21 policy fiasco is especially concerning, given that 2020 appointed Vice-Chancellor Simone Buitendijk (previously vice-provost for Imperial College London) supported transphobic and anti-trans tweets and blogs in 2019, which she has since apologized for.

Buitendijk has since deleted her Twitter account, but records of her transphobic engagements have been preserved online. The blogs Buitendijk promoted included popular rhetoric used by Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs), claiming trans women’s fight for equality puts “biological” women in danger.

According to those working in the Felix (Imperial College London’s newspaper) at the time, her apology did not seem sincere to those who recorded and spoke out against the Vice-Chancellor's transphobic online behaviour. 

The apology read: “Although I support the freedom of academics to follow and engage in debate in all areas, including on social media, on this occasion I now realise that social media is not the correct forum for such sensitive debates."

"I have elected to stop all engagement with these accounts and apologise for hurt or anxiety caused to members of our community.”

Buitendijk's apology focused on the free speech elements of the matter, rather than the content of the posts she promoted.

Progress has seemingly been made in reinstating the 2017 policies this past week.

However, the University of Leeds’ website’s “Guidance to Support Trans Staff and Students” section contains a footnote stating: “Please note, these documents are currently under review. In particular, details of section 3, section 5 and Appendix 1 of the guidance are likely to change.” Careful attention to future changes should be taken, so that history may not repeat itself.

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