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.

Transphobia and discrimination >

Trans staff and students face discrimination and negative treatment. ECU research undertaken in 2009 found that levels were higher than those for lesbian, gay and bisexual people on campus.

Experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans staff and students in higher education: research report 2009 

  • Almost a quarter (22.6%) of the trans students surveyed had been bullied or discriminated against since starting university.
  • 28.5% of trans students have taken time out of their course.
  • Trans staff reported high levels of physical and sexual abuse from students, work colleagues, and those working in other areas of the respondents’ institutions.
  • 23% of staff those who have transitioned had not been formally addressed in their acquired gender in communications with their employer
  • 13.1% of trans staff have been asked to not use the toilets or changing facilities of their preferred or acquired gender
  • Trans respondents mentioned a fear of losing financial support if they come out, highlighted difficulties of changing personal details on institutional records, and spoke of anxiety around people using their chosen gender pronoun and expectations around their use of single-sex spaces
Resources to support trans staff and students >
  • Trans staff and students in higher education (Revised 2010)  provides information on transitioning, and the support institutions can provide. It gives background information to transitioning, gender reassignment and gender identity, offers recommendations for promoting trans equality within a university or college and outlines responsibilities for providing support. A revised version will be available in 2014.
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).

Monitoring data >

There is currently no legal obligation to monitor gender identity for either staff or students. However, monitoring gender identity is useful in order to learn more about the needs of trans staff and students and to support them accordingly.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) have included gender identity as a voluntary field in staff and student data returns. Using data and evidence provides further information.

A decision whether to monitor gender identity should be taken in consultation with trans staff and student groups as well as trades and students’ unions. See Introducing new categories for further information.

ECU has developed monitoring questions that you can use to gather monitoring data on gender identity. See Monitoring questions.

Storing sensitive monitoring data

Where data can be linked to individuals (for example in returns to HESA, it needs to be stored in compliance with the Data Protection Act. Gender identity is classed as ‘sensitive personal data’ by the Data Protection Act, meaning that it can only be stored if the individual gives their consent.

Provided that respondents are reminded of their right to refuse to answer questions, a box can be included on the form for respondents to tick if they grant their permission for data to be stored.

Monitoring data should not be stored in personal files, but in a secure system with restricted access to ensure confidentiality. When reporting monitoring data (other than to HESA) you must ensure trans staff and students are not identifiable. For example, data should not be linked to information such as specific courses, departments, grades or job titles.

If you collect information on gender identity through anonymous surveys, you may need to consider building in additional safeguards.

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