LGBT+ university staff face slurs ‘at least monthly’

Three in 10 respondents to UCU survey say that they have experienced homophobic language in workplace

May 6, 2021
Legs walking on rainbow crossing, LGBT+ inclusion
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Three in 10 LGBT+ staff in UK higher education have experienced homophobic language, according to a new survey.

The study, published by the University and College Union (UCU), found that “levels of personally experienced discrimination among LGBT+ staff in UK higher education are concerningly high”.

The report analysed 122 survey responses from LGBT+ members of staff from six universities across England, Scotland and Wales, and found that discriminatory incidents occurred “at least monthly” for the respondents.

The results found that derogatory language and negative actions were particularly reported by transgender and non-binary and black LGBT+ staff.

THE Campus resource: Embracing a compassionate approach in higher education

It found that one in four experienced derogatory language about sexual orientation. It found that 27 per cent experienced derogatory language about gender identity and 30 per cent about gender expression.

One respondent reported that “a colleague interrogated me about my sexuality after I revealed I had a lesbian partner. He was asking whether I identified as a woman and whether I ‘liked’ men. I had to ask him to stop.”

Another said a senior professor at one institution “started ranting about trans people at a women in tech lunch”.

The survey also revealed that 29 per cent of respondents believed promotion criteria affect LGBT+ people negatively.

It also found that 47 per cent had experienced mental health issues.

The report highlights that many of the respondents linked their feelings of burnout or poor mental health to their experiences of gender and sexuality in the workplace. For example, 42 per cent of respondents said that the labour of inclusivity work, such as around LGBT+ or other issues, fell disproportionately to them within their institutions.

This is a similar finding to reports that gender- and racial-equality work often leads to women or ethnic minorities taking on extra duties.

The survey also found that 42 per cent and 40 per cent of respondents felt that their institution did not value teaching or research, respectively, on gender, sexuality and diversity. It found that 47 per cent said the decolonisation work in their institution does not include working on issues related to gender diversity and sexual orientation.

According to the report, one of the main problems is that the “top down” approach to LGBT+ issues in UK universities meant that inclusion and discrimination are often addressed via “tick box” or performative approaches.

This could be raising a rainbow flag on campus during Pride or LGBT+ month or making attempts to monitor diversity without making any changes to the power structures that discriminate against the LGBT+ community.

The report advocates “for comprehensive sector-wide change accordingly, focused on LGBT+ inclusion in the context of other equality and diversity actions”.

UCU head of equality and participation Jenny Sherrard said the findings “should make sober reading for university management”.

“UCU is determined to end homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within academia, but there is clearly a lot of work to do before universities become inclusive spaces for LGBT+ staff,” she said. “Key to any progress will be recognising that meaningful LGBT+ inclusion is bound up with wider struggles linked to job insecurity, health and well-being, and decolonisation.”

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