December 29, 2020

Trans policies in UK Universities: some highlights

The Education Reform Act 1988 describes the need "to ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions". Most UK university statutes contain a similar clause.

As you read the excerpts below, I encourage you to ask yourself certain questions.

Irrespective of the good intentions behind them, are the clauses below, taken from current official policies in UK Universities, compatible with Universities' stated commitments to academic freedom?  

Do they move beyond standard HR Equality procedures into unacceptable attempts to control the speech and thought of academics and students?

Do they create an environment where academics may freely criticize the idea of gender identity, or assert the social importance of biological sex, or advocate for genuinely single-sex spaces, or discuss the effects on female prisoners of trans women in women's prisons, or analyze the rapid rise of gender identity disorders in young people, or defend the integrity of women's sport, or describe issues specifically affecting same-sex attracted people - to name just a few obviously academic questions?  

Are there any other equivalently heavy-handed policies for any other minority group on campus? (I'll answer that one: no, there are not).

Selected University trans policy extracts

University of Leeds:

  • “Think of people as being the gender that they self-identify as.”
  • “A person should be addressed and referred to using the pronouns which make them feel comfortable. This could be he, she, they, per, hir or other pronouns. If you are uncertain, either listen to what pronoun others are using or politely ask what they prefer, for example “Hi, I’m xxx and I use the pronouns he and him. What about you?” Encourage others to use these pronouns too and if the wrong pronoun is used, apologise quickly and move on.”

UCL (where five lecturers who signed a letter to the Guardian about academic freedom to discuss trans rights were then subject to complaint and public demonization):

  • “If a trans person informs a staff member that a word or phrasing is inappropriate or offensive, then that staff member should take their word for it, and adjust their phraseology accordingly”

Aberystwyth (and multiple other institutions):

  • “any materials within relevant courses and modules will positively represent trans people and trans lives.”

Oxford (where feminist Professor Selina Todd needs security to give her lectures and where she was no-platformed from a Women's Liberation Event; and where attendees to an academic event on trans intersectionality were required to sign a code of conduct beforehand):

  • "EXAMPLES OF GOOD PRACTICE: While understanding gender identification is very important, the phrase “identifies as” is sometimes used as a buzzword which actually means very little, and can sometimes actually have the effect of delegitimising trans people. For instance, if you talk about “women and people who identify as women”, you are in fact just talking about women! Here, the phrase ‘people who identify as women’ is clearly meant to indicate trans women, but in doing so suggests they aren’t ‘real’ women. If you need to explicitly state that you’re including trans women when you talk about women – for instance, if you’re running a women-only event and want to reassure trans women that they are welcome – you can always say ‘women, whether trans or cis’.
  • "Trans students should be given the same opportunities to participate in sports as other students. Being socially accepted in their self-identified gender is important to trans students and a refusal to let them participate in sport might be seen as transphobic."
  • "EXAMPLES OF GOOD PRACTICE: "Linacre College women’s weightlifting club welcomes members who are women, cis or trans, as well as people with a complex gender identity which includes ‘woman’."
  • "Consider your reasons for asking questions about sex/gender in any survey or form, since such questions may be problematic for people with a trans identity. .. National guidance on data collection in higher education has changed, with a move towards recognising a gender spectrum by offering three options of ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘other’. It is also good practice to offer a ‘prefer not to say’ option."

Imperial (where Vice-Provost Professor Simone Buitendijk was forced to offer a "grovelling apology" for retweeting material arguing in favour of women's sex-based rights):

  • "we should not assume a person's pronouns from their appearance, voice or characteristics. Using the correct pronouns for someone is a basic sign of respect, so it is important to note what pronouns a person goes by. Some non-binary people go by gender-neutral pronouns such as "they/them", but there are also non-binary people who go by "she/her" or "he/him". Some people go by more than one set of pronouns, e.g. a person might go by both "she/her" and "they/them". There are other gender-neutral pronouns that people may go by, such as "ze/hir" or "ze/zir"."
  • "You can help to normalise a culture at Imperial where everyone feels comfortable sharing their pronouns in the following ways: Introduce yourself with your pronouns: "Hi, my name is John and my pronouns are he/him." Try introducing your colleagues in such a way that makes their pronouns clear, e.g. "This is Jane; she works in the Faculty of Engineering" or "This is Max; they're new to Imperial." If you're chairing a meeting, try telling everyone to introduce themselves with their name and pronouns: "Let's go around and introduce ourselves with our names, our pronouns if we feel comfortable sharing, and what we do. I'll start. I'm Sarah, my pronouns are she/her, and I work in the Faculty of Medicine." Include a line stating your pronouns, e.g. "Pronouns: he/him", in your email signature, under your name and job title. Pick up a pronoun badge from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Centre and wear it on your lanyard so people can see your pronouns at a glance!"
  • "If you realise after you've been speaking about someone, e.g. during a meeting, that you made a mistake with their pronouns, apologise to the individual in private afterwards, acknowledge that you know their pronouns and say that you'll get it right in the future."
  • "To continue to build a culture which is inclusive of all genders, you should avoid wording that assumes there are only two genders, e.g.Instead of "ladies and gentlemen", say "everybody", "colleagues", or "friends and guests". Instead of "he/she" (when referring to someone unknown or a universal person), use "they" or "the person". Instead of "men and women", say "people"."


  • “Any historical content or comparative content containing what is now recognised as transphobic material needs to be clearly labelled with a trigger warning.”

Oxford Brookes (where feminist artist Rachel Ara was no-platformed for her critical stance towards trans ideology):

  • “The University will: Adopt a broad and inclusive definition of gender identity, as well as positive language about gender identity affirmation.”
  • “All teaching staff should make every effort to ensure that their delivery of the curriculum is inclusive of trans identities.”
  • “We recognise that each person’s trans journey is unique. At all times the wishes of the individual will be central and should determine the timeframes, actions and communication.”

Roehampton (where this conference occurred, as described by Dr Susan Matthews):

  • "Examples of bullying and harassment in this context may include (but are not limited to): Deadnaming – referring to an individual’s previous name; Misgendering – referring to an individual’s incorrect gender identity; Denial of an individual’s gender identity – for example denying that a person is trans, nonbinary or intersex; Transphobia – for example stating that particular genders are invalid"
  • “Do not simply assume someone’s pronoun based on your assessment of their outward appearance.”

Essex (where Professor Jo Phoenix's talk on trans women in prison was cancelled after protest):

  • "DEFINITIONS: Androgyne: is a person who identifies with a gender that is simultaneously masculine and feminine; Bigender: refers to a gender identity whereby a person identifies with two genders. This can be simultaneously or to a varying degree between both genders; Pangender: refers to a gender identity whereby a person identifies with a multitude, and perhaps infinite (going beyond the current knowledge of genders) number of genders either simultaneously, to varying degrees, or over the course of time.”
  • "..trans people, just like cisgender people, can identify with a range of sexual orientations. For example, trans women might identify as straight (sexually attracted to men), lesbian (sexually attracted to women), bisexual (sexually attracted to men and women) or asexual (feeling no sexual attraction to anyone). Similarly, trans men might identify as straight (sexually attracted to women), gay (sexually attracted to men), bisexual (sexually attracted to women and men) or asexual (feeling no sexual attraction to anyone). Furthermore, both trans and cisgender people could identify as pansexual, meaning they are sexually attracted to people of all gender identities, including those that do not ascribe to a gender binary.”

Kent (where Professor Selina Todd's proposed talk on working-class women was met with this hostile response and the petition described here):

  • "Note: Terminology in the ‘transgender’ field is constantly changing as our understanding and perceptions of gender variance develop. As such this list is subject to change and is non-exhaustive:
  • Agender / Neutrois A person who does not identify themselves as having a particular gender.
  • Androgyne: A person with a gender which is simultaneously masculine and feminine but not necessarily in equal amounts. It is associated with androgyny.
  • Demigender: A person who feels partially, but not completely, connected to a particular gender identity.
  • Demifluid: A person whose gender identity is partially fluid whilst the other part(s) are static.
  • Demiflux: A person whose gender identity is partially fluid, with the other part(s) being static. This differs from demifluid as flux indicates that one of the genders is non-binary.”

(continues for some time  - Ed).


  • “Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of their own gender and what feels right for them. This might be male, female, non-binary, genderless, or some other gender identity. All gender identities are equally valid" [NB: bold is theirs].

University of West of England (where these signs appeared in women's public toilets on campus):

  • “The curriculum will be reviewed to ensure that it does not rely on or reinforce stereotypical assumptions about trans people, and that it does not contain transphobic material. Lecturers are mindful of the possible issues trans students may experience in a classroom."
  • “Transphobic propaganda, in the form of written materials, graffiti, music or speeches, will not be tolerated and will be a subject of investigation which may result in possible sanction. UWE undertakes to remove any such propaganda whenever it appears on the premises.”

Bristol (where student Raquel Rosario Sanchez was subject to ongoing bullying  for her feminist views, as yet unaddressed by the University):

  • “If you believe you may be about to refer to an individual with the wrong pronoun (or title) then the best thing to do is, ask the individual in question how they would like to be addressed. Their chosen pronoun – he, she, they, or ze for example – should be respected and used, however if you make a mistake a simple apology to the individual is often greatly appreciated. It can be dangerous to assume a trans person’s gender, mis-gendering and mistitling a trans person can sometimes be quite traumatic for the individual.”
  • “If you make a mistake with pronouns, apologise, correct yourself, and then quickly move on."

De Montfort:

  • “A pronoun is the term used to refer to somebody for example she/her/hers/herself or he/him/his/himself. Gender-neutral pronouns include: they/them/their/themselves; che/chim/chis/chimself; E/Em/Eir/Eirs/Emself; Per(person)/pers/perself; Xe/ hir/ hirs/ hirself. Language is continually shifting and previously used terms may no longer be appropriate”

Edinburgh (where a conference on addressing gender identity in schools was cancelled "amid fears for speakers' safety", and where feminist author Julie Bindel was attacked by a trans woman after speaking at a campus conference on sex-based rights) :

  • "Think of the person as being the gender that they want you to think of them as."
  • "Use the name and pronoun that the person asks you to. If you are not sure what the right pronoun is, then simply ask. If you make a mistake with pronouns, correct yourself and move on. Do not make a big deal out of it."
  • "Listen to the person, and ask them how they want to be treated and referred to."