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LGBT university staff and students face ‘high levels’ of discrimination

Jessica Geen March 5, 2009

A survey has suggested that many gay, bisexual and trans staff and students in UK higher education institutes suffer homophobia and discrimination.

The research, led by Professor Gill Valentine at the University of Leeds, found that 20 per cent of LGB students and 28.5 per cent of trans students had been forced to suspend their studies due to homophobia and transphobia.

Although over 90 per cent of gay and bisexual students were out to their peers, 46.8 per cent said they had been subjected to negative comments, while others said they felt they couldn’t participate in certain activities such as sports, as they felt other students may be wary of being phsyically close to them.

Financial problems were a particular concern for trans students, with 34.8 per cent saying they feared being cut off by their parents if they revealed their trans status.

One student said: “Obviously, with planning to transition and everything, it’s probably quite a good idea for me to tell my parents at some point but there’s the fact that they are very Catholic and they’re quite homophobic and transphobic.

“And basically I think they might cut me off. The estrangement provisions at the moment are a load of crap, so that’s a bit of a worry.”

Staff reported high levels of discrimination, with 33 per cent of LGB and 41 per cent of trans staff saying they had faced abuse from colleagues.

Lack of awareness was another issue, with 37.1 per cent of LGBT staff saying they did not know if their university had a written policy on sexual orientation discrimination, while 61.8 per cent were unaware of whether it had a policy on trans discrimination.

Fifty-nine per cent of staff do not know if their institution has an LGBT network 84.4 per cent of LGB staff do not know if their institution offers bereavement, adoption and maternity/paternity leave to LGB employees who are not registered as civil partners.

The report suggested that positive images of LGBT people in admissions brochures influenced respondents’ choices on which institution to attend but added that those in “gay-friendly” locations were more likely to suffer bullying, possibly because of their increased visibility.

Positively, only 1.7 per cent of LGB students and 5.4 per cent of trans students felt they had been awarded lower marks due to their sexual orientations or trans identities and the majority of student unions were reported to be supportive.

Commenting on the report, minister of state for higher education David Lammy, said: “I welcome this report which is one of the first of its kind to highlight the experiences of LGBT staff and students.

“We expect universities to be tolerant places, promoting open thinking. The fact that LGBT students feel they can be themselves in our universities is very positive.

“But there still needs to be a concerted effort by the sector and institutions to ensure that LGBT staff and students feel welcome and are acknowledged and recognised as an integral part of the higher education community.”

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