Those on the University and College Union equality committee who have decided to bar people who do not have a “protected characteristic” from attending its equality conference ought to read the law (“UCU reps ‘need protected characteristic’ to attend equality event”, News, 4 June).
It appears that those who are responsible for the decision are under the impression that the protected characteristic of “sexual orientation” applies only to those who are gay/lesbian, that “sex” applies only to the female sex, and that “race” applies only to those who are black, Asian, or from an ethnic minority. In fact, everyone has a protected characteristic, whether they “declare it” or not.
For example, the protected characteristic of “sex” applies to both sexes – male and female. The Equality Act 2010 states: “11. Sex
In relation to the protected characteristic of sex –
(a) a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a man or a woman” (emphasis added).
On the protected characteristic of “race”: “9. Race
(1) Race includes –
(c) ethnic or national origins” (emphasis added).
That is, the protected characteristic of “race” does not apply only to those who are black, from an ethnic minority, or Asian, it applies to all colours and nationalities.
On the protected characteristic of “sexual orientation”:
“12. Sexual orientation
(1) Sexual orientation means a person’s sexual orientation towards –
(a) persons of the same sex,
(b) persons of the opposite sex, or (c) persons of either sex” (emphasis added).
That is, the protected characteristic of “sexual orientation” does not apply only to those who are gay or lesbian, it applies to all sexual orientations.
It is just as much an offence to discriminate against a person because they are male, white or heterosexual as it is to discriminate against them because they are female, from an ethnic minority, gay or transgender.
The UCU is not barring people who are white, male or heterosexual because they lack the “protected characteristic”; it is barring them in breach of the protected characteristic.
I would submit, therefore, that the UCU itself is acting in breach of the Equality Act 2010, and is leaving itself open to litigation.