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Advancing equality and diversity in universities and colleges

Trans people

There are growing numbers of trans people working and learning in higher education institutions and colleges. Ensure your institution is inclusive and provides appropriate support.

Trans is an inclusive term for people who may identify themselves as transgender, transsexual, transvestite, but also includes identities such as agendered, polygendered, non-gendered or gender queer.

Transitioning is the term used to describe the process someone goes through to change from one gender to another, with or without medical intervention. Not every trans person will feel it is appropriate to use the binary genders of male or female during or after transition.

Every trans person is different: some people will transition to their preferred gender full-time and others will choose to live in their preferred gender part-time; some choose to undergo surgery or have other medical intervention and others choose not to. The length of time it takes for a person to transition can differ vastly depending on these factors, the length of time it takes to see a psychiatrist and a gender identity specialist and whether they transition under the NHS or privately.

Whatever the individual circumstances, it is important that institutions are flexible, supportive, and make clear that discrimination and harassment against trans people will not be tolerated. Institutions should work with the person who is transitioning or has transitioned to agree an action plan, appropriate support and which records should be changed.

Changing records >

In the UK if you wish to be known by a different name you can change your name at any time. There is no legal procedure to follow – you simply start using the new name. You can change your forename or surname, add names or rearrange your existing names.

With the exception of degree certificates (see below) and pension schemes, a written notification of intent to transition is sufficient for the gender and name on staff and student personnel and academic records to be changed.

If a person discloses their status as a trans person, or gives notification of their intent to transition during employment or education, you need to discuss and agree the date from which their name and gender is changed on all personnel or student records, website records, payroll details, identification passes etc. This is necessary to enable the person to go about their daily life as a staff member or student without their birth gender being known.

Refusal to change a trans person’s title, name and gender on student or staff records could constitute gender reassignment discrimination. Asking students or alumni for medical evidence is not appropriate, as trans people do not have to be under medical supervision in order to be protected by the law.

A trans person does not need a gender recognition certificate (GRC) in order to change their name and title and it is unlawful to ask for one.

It can take several years for a trans person to obtain a GRC and in order to qualify they must live permanently in their new gender for at least two years. A GRC enables the person to have a new birth certificate (which does not disclose the fact they have changed gender), if their birth was registered in the UK, and to be legally recognised for all purposes in their new gender role, including marriage and civil partnership. Once a person has obtained a certificate they do not have to disclose their past to anyone.

In consultation with trans staff and student groups, prepare a list of possible records, documents and identification badges that will need to be changed if a staff member or student notifies the institution of their intent to transition. This can then be used to support the transition process and serve as a checklist.

No records should be changed without permission from the staff member or student concerned. Some individuals may only wish to change their name on their records and not their gender, and in this case the same procedure should be followed as for other name change requests, such as changing a name following marriage.

Institutions may also wish to consider how they can allow students and staff to choose a gender-neutral title such as ‘Mx’ or perhaps provide the option of choosing no title, rather than switching between traditional gendered titles.

Degree certificates and pension schemes

Degree certificates are legal documents therefore legal proof of a change of name is required in order to issue or to reissue a degree certificate in a name different to the name in which the student originally registered. Forms of legal proof of a name change can include:

  • statutory declaration of name change
  • deed poll certificate
  • birth certificate

Any costs associated to acquiring a proof of name change should be covered by the institution, not the individual. However, it is within an institution’s discretion whether to charge trans students or alumni for a replacement degree certificate. Any fee charged should not be more than what would normally charged for replacement documents.

References to a trans person’s former name, gender and trans status

Any material that needs to be kept that is related to the person’s trans status should be filed so that it is inaccessible to anyone other than an agreed person. This should include any document that links a person’s present name and gender status with a different name and gender status, such as records of absence for medical assistance, birth certificate and documentation of name change.

For example, these records could be placed in a sealed envelope and attached to a new file with instructions such as, ‘Confidential: personnel manager only’ or ‘Confidential: head of student services only’. The personnel manager or head of student services should allow staff to view the information only if they require it to perform their specific duties and only with the permission of the person concerned.

Once a trans person receives a gender recognition certificate, they have the right to request that all references to their former name and gender are removed from old records to ensure their former identity is not revealed. All records held on paper file must be found and replaced with new records, and relevant information transferred to a new cover. For example, if a student has changed their name, their original offer letter will need to be replaced with an offer letter in their new name. Where information is stored in a format that cannot be changed or replaced easily, such as PDFs on microfiche, consider producing the document in a new format (as you would for similar documents that have been lost/damaged).

Single-sex facilities >

A trans person should have access to ‘men-only’ and ‘women-only’ areas according to the gender in which they present. This includes single-sex accommodation, changing rooms and toilets. It is not acceptable to restrict a trans person to using disabled toilets or other unisex facilities.

Trans equality policies and training >

If your university decides not to have a dedicated trans/gender identity equality policy, then trans equality must be included as a standalone equality area in all equalities documents and related policies, such as bullying and harassment and dignity at work policies.

Having an equality policy is a very powerful way of communicating to staff and students (and prospective staff and students) that your university takes trans rights seriously.

All staff should be made aware of trans equality issues through training and staff handbook materials. A more in-depth discussion will be necessary when a member of staff or student decides to transition.

It is important to:

  • include trans equality in all relevant policies and procedures
  • provide trans equality training for staff and students
  • involve trans people at all stages when managing their transition
  • deal robustly with bullying and harassment of trans staff and students
  • respect trans people’s identity and privacy