LGBT+ Inclusivity in Higher Education: Who are the victims?

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As academics, researchers, teachers, professional staff, and practitioners in the Higher Education sector, we are compelled to write to rebut the arguments put forward in the article published in the Sunday Times on 16th June. The article cited a letter signed by a group of about thirty academics who claim that Stonewall is stifling academic freedom. We entirely reject the position taken in the letter that promoting an educational environment free from harassment and bullying via the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme contradicts the principles of academic freedom.

The letter muddles the distinction between the concept of academic freedom, and the statutory public sector equality duties of higher education institutions. For the former, the right to conduct academic debates, research, and publish activities without fear of retribution by those in power, is the cornerstone of the academy. Whilst the latter relates to the institutional duties towards legally protected groups to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, promote equality of opportunity and foster good relations through the practices of higher education institutions. Debating gender pronouns within an academic context is part of academic freedom whereas the refusal to respect the gender pronouns of an individual to be used in class is not.

It is particularly regrettable that the letter, we feel, uses manipulative language to mislead the public about institutional autonomy. Many LGBT+ Staff Networks in the higher education sector have directly and indirectly been involved in dialogue with universities’ senior management about institutional policy development in order to support their institutions in meeting their legal duties. The conspiracy theory that Stonewall interferes with institutional autonomy and academic freedom through equality advocacy and recommendations for LGBT+ inclusive practices is absurdly deceptive. Stonewall provides a holistic and systematic approach for Diversity Champions to assess their policies and practice against each other through the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index (WEI). Participation in the WEI is voluntary but enables public, private and third sector organisations to evaluate and share good practice. This benefits not just members of the LGBT+ communities but all staff and students by fostering a more inclusive organisational culture. We are deeply concerned that a false claim of victimhood, under the guise of academic freedom, risks being legitimised to discredit universities and Stonewall when recent news and data about the experiences of LGBT+ communities show increasing levels of reported homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crime, harassment and discrimination.

We unapologetically advocate for an academy where debates are intellectual and ethical, where everybody can be authentic to be who they are, and where everyone treats each other with respect and dignity. We also encourage our colleagues in the sector to challenge prejudice and aggression towards trans and all other minoritised groups. We stand in solidarity with trans staff and students and will continue to challenge views that run counter to our goal of an inclusive academy.


This Open Letter has been additionally endorsed by:

The Oxford University LGBT+ Advisory Group and Staff Network, The University of Kent LGBT+ Staff Network, the Sheffield Hallam University LGBT+ Network, the Middlesex University LGBT+ Everyone Else Forum, the Northumbria University LGBTQ* Staff Network, the Wrexham Glyndwr University LGBT+ Staff network, the Loughborough University LGBT+ Staff Group, the Lancaster University LGBT+ Staff Network, the University of Hertfordshire’s LGBT Staff Network, the University of Worcester LGBTQ+ Network, the Queen’s University Belfast Staff LGBT+ Network - PRISM, the Oxford Brookes University LGBTQ+ Staff Forum, the University of Bristol LGBT+ Staff Network, the University of Surrey LGBTQI Staff Network, the University of Leeds LGBT+ Staff Network, the Warwick University’s LGBTUA+ Taskforce, the Warwick University’s LGBTUA+ Staff Network, the Coventry University’s LGBTQ+ Staff Forum, the York St John LGBT+ Staff Network, the University of Huddersfield LGBTQI+ Staff Network, the Nottingham Trent University LGBT+ Staff Network, the Manchester Metropolitan University LGBTA+ Staff Forum, the University of Plymouth LGBT+ Staff Forum, the University of Winchester LGBT+ Network, the Birmingham City University LGBT+ Staff Network, the University of the West of England LGBT+ Staff Network, the University of Exeter LGBTQ+ Staff Network, the University of Birmingham Rainbow Network's Committee, the University of Chester Staff LGBT+ Group, the University of Roehampton Pride Network 


About the LGBT+ Network of Networks in Higher Education

The LGBT+ Network of Networks in Higher Education (NoN) is a consortium of nearly 200 professionals from around 90 universities, research institutions, sectoral agencies, and equality organisations. Most of our members are LGBT+ Staff Networks officers or ally practitioners from higher education institutions in the UK. Founded in 2017, NoN provides a dedicated platform to help enhance the sustainability of LGBT+ Staff Networks in the sector, and to support the continuous professional development of their networks’ officers. NoN convenes members’ meetings twice a year to disseminate inclusive practices and professional training workshops. NoN members have a proud and collegiate culture in offering peer support to fellow LGBT+ Staff Networks through the NoN mail list. In addition, NoN is in partnership with NADSN to co-organise the Unearthing the Hidden Voices: Intersectionalities in Higher Education on the 20th June in Manchester. The official NoN website will be launched in the third quarter of 2019, to generate a more prominent collective voice on sectoral issues for LGBT+ Staff Networks in higher education.

To engage with NoN or for media enquiries, please contact us via Twitter @LGBTNoNHE.