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UCU Congress torn over sex and gender debate

Disputes continue within the university and college union on transgender rights


By Olivia Mackenzie Smith


Courtesy of It's No Game on Flickr


A motion in the UCU Congress that would have encouraged opposition to gender critical beliefs has been amended following legal advice that it may be in breach of the 2010 Equality Act.


However, the motion still acknowledges the UK Government’s “hostility towards Stonewall (the LGBTQ rights charity) for its support for trans rights” and failure to include the transgender community in protective legislation.


Gender critical beliefs dispute the idea that gender is fluid or can be changed and prioritise assigned sex over gender identity. The term ‘Gender critical feminists’ or ‘TERFs’ describes people who believe that transgender rights threaten women’s rights.


A UCU spokesperson told Inside Higher Ed that the organisation is a ‘proud and unequivocal supporter of the rights of trans and non-binary people” and ‘rejects wholeheartedly the attacks being launched on this community across the media and in government.’


The subject of protection for transgender people and whether gender critical ideology deserves protection has been contentious, particularly within universities. In 2021 philosophy professor Kathleen Stock resigned her post at Sussex University after being accused of transphobia.


In an interview she criticised the Sussex branch of the UCU for failing to provide her support, telling The Guardian,

‘When union committee members basically back intimidation against you as an employee, then that’s a bit of a blow.'

The University of Aberdeen has a policy of supporting transgender individuals, ensuring that wishes to change name or gender on university records “will be actioned as quickly as possible” and that any transphobic bullying - defined in the policy as ‘derogatory jokes’, ‘unwanted behaviour’ or ‘intrusive questions’ - will be met with appropriate disciplinary action.


However the policy does not explicitly include misgendering or ‘deadnaming’ (continually referring to a trans person by their name used prior to transition) as forms of bullying. Gender critical idealists may refuse to use correct pronouns and names of trans people as they claim this goes against their beliefs.


When asked about the potential impact this debate within the UCU might have on students at Aberdeen, Camilo Torres-Barragán, AUSA’s VP for communities stated:

‘AUSA stands with its position that trans rights are human rights and we encourage any student who is concerned about this matter to get in touch with us. We meet regularly with Aberdeen UCU and we’ll make sure to raise this matter to seek clarity on their position on this.’