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University under fire for telling LGBT staff to hide their sexuality while visiting its Dubai campus

Lily Wakefield December 5, 2019
University of Birmingham Dubai LGBT+ guidance

University of Birmingham stall at Birmingham Pride 2019. (unibirmingham/ Instagram)

The University of Birmingham has come under fire for issuing guidance to LGBT+ staff visiting its new Dubai campus that they should hide their sexuality.

The Dubai campus of the Russell Group university opened in 2018, and has received criticism since its announcement because of the extreme suppression of LGBT+ rights in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The University of Birmingham Rainbow Network has now given “shameful” advice to staff who may be travelling to or working at the Dubai campus.

The document states that staff should hide their sexuality or gender identity if they are LGBT+, and instructs them to “avoid dressing in a way which is not traditionally associated with your (perceived) gender”, avoid advocating for LGBT+ people when “undertaking research, hosting academic discussions, or offering welfare support” and even states they should not bring e-readers with books downloaded that contain LGBT+ themes.

English literature lecturer at the university Dr Amy Burge told The Independent: “The guidance is counter to everything that the university stands for as an employer committed to equalities.”

Emily, a University of Birmingham student, wrote on Twitter: “Shocked and ashamed that you’re still openly promoting a campus that goes against all the ethics and values that you (obviously pretend) to promote at @unibirmingham – going as far as to publish behavioural guidelines for LGBT+ staff/ students over there.”

University of Birmingham Rainbow Network also suggested that if staff have a same-sex partner as their next of kin, they should change it a least a month before, of for the duration of, their travel to Dubai.

James Bradley, a scientist at Queen Mary University of London, added on Twitter that the advice was “astonishing, abhorrent and shameful”.

Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, told The Independent: “Before entering into these kinds of partnerships, universities need to set out clearly how they will protect their staff and ensure all their campuses are safe for all staff and students. Not to clumsily ask staff to keep their head down and stay out of trouble.

“This advice highlights a disregard for LGBT+ staff and is a dereliction of the university’s duty to stand up for human rights and academic freedom.”

“The advice looks like an afterthought from an institution concerned about chasing money with staff as shock absorbers.”

A University of Birmingham spokesperson also said in a statement: “As the university increases its global activity and presence, the challenge remains how to translate our strongly-held commitment to equality and diversity in countries that have significant legal, social and cultural differences to the UK.

“Our approach has been to find common ground between our commitment and the equally important need to ensure, as far as is possible, the safety of our staff and students.

“Our focus remains on supporting their safety and wellbeing, wherever they work or study. We take extensive steps to avoid unintentionally outing LGBT+ employees and students, or their partners, when working globally, as is consistent with best practice and external advice.”

Gay sex is illegal for men and women in the UAE under section 354 of the federation’s legal code, which is based on Sharia law. Punishment can include deportation, chemical castrations, fine, prison time and execution.

More: dubai, LGBT staff, rainbow network, russell group, University of Birmingham

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