This issue of Concrete is a pertinent one for LGBT+ issues, falling as it does within LGBT+ History Month. So it seems important to draw people’s attention to a part of the LGBT community that is often forgotten and is still badly served on our campus: transgender students.
The term ‘transgender’ is a broad one that is used to refer to anyone whose self-defined gender does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. (In contrast, people whose gender does match their assigned gender are described as ‘cisgender’.) Many trans people are women and men, and use the more well-known pronouns of ‘she/her’ and ‘he/him’. Others – like me – are non-binary. This in itself is a broad term and non-binary people can use many different pronouns (indeed some still use he/him and she/her); personally I use ‘they/them/theirs’ pronouns.
Now, given that an estimated 3–4% of UEA students are transgender, you’d think that things would be relatively OK for us at a university often lauded for being ‘progressive’. That is not necessarily true, and it’s well past time for us to stop assuming that UEA is OK for everybody, because it isn’t.
Just recently, a trans woman was kept out of the women’s changing facilities in the Sportspark by a staff member who told her there were no single occupancy changing rooms – even though there were – and told her to either use the Men’s changing rooms or not bring a bag to the gym. This in itself highlights the need for university staff to be trained on transgender issues, but it is by no means an isolated example.
University staff frequently misgender me and use the wrong pronouns, as do students. I have had abuse shouted at me and been laughed at for the simple act of walking while trans. Prejudice and ignorance are still rife, and UEA does not even officially recognise the existence of non-binary students. Most campus buildings lack gender neutral toilets, including Union House, which not only forces non binary students to misgender themselves when peeing, but also denies trans men and trans women a safe space to go to the toilet on days when they don’t feel as confident in their gender.
So what should be done about this? Well, a start would be having some student union policy on transgender issues, but the Union of UEA Students doesn’t mention transgender students in any of its LGBT policies. This is despite the fact that trans people are significantly disadvantaged in society and that for the last three years the position of LGBT+ Officer has only ever been held by a cisgender student. In the three years I’ve been a student that lack of trans representation in policy has persistently remained.
In fact, the only policy I know of that was in any way targeted at trans students was a gender neutral toilets policy. Introduced in 2012, it is only now being implemented in time for September 2015 thanks to the work of this year’s union officers. But the fact that it has taken so long to implement such a basic requirement is a poor verdict on the student union’s priorities in the last three years.
UEA should be more active on trans rights and trans issues, and the SU should be strongly advocating for a more trans-inclusive campus. It’s time to shout louder about transgender rights.