By Laura Carman
On Thursday, 19 October Lucy Cavendish College held a panel on inclusivity guidelines for transgender students. I attended this event with high hopes of hearing how Lucians can encourage policy change that follows the recent decision of Murray Edwards College.
The revised policy at Murray Edwards states that the college “will consider any student who, at the point of application, identifies as female and, where they have been identified as male at birth, has taken steps to live in the female gender”. Legally, this means the college will no longer be bound by the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, which at its core is a discriminatory and invasive piece of legislation that asks transgender people to prove their human worth and confines gender to binary, legal and medical terms. The UK does not have a legal definition of trans, which serves to invalidate and exclude this already marginalised community, and which I personally find appalling.
The incredible panel was comprised of: Dr Bogdan Popa, Lucy Cavendish’s new research associate and one of my lecturers in the MPhil in Multi-Disciplinary Gender studies; Dr Isobel Maddison, Vice President of Lucy Cavendish; Dr Rumiana Yotova, college lecturer and DoS in Law; Aiden Greenall, trans* student at Wolfson College also undertaking the MPhil in Multi-Disciplinary Gender Studies; and Ali Hyde, transgender student at Downing College and CUSU LGBT+’s Trans Representative, undertaking his second year of HSPS.
Discussions covered the importance of transgender identity politics within academia and how these are understood in everyday life. Aiden and Ali shared personal stories of their journeys to Cambridge and gave us real insight into the structural barriers faced by trans and non-binary folk. The panelists especially stressed the importance of language when it comes to including trans students. Transgender activists had to do a majority of this work themselves. During the rise of second-wave feminism in the 60s and 70s, when our Lucy Cavendish College was founded, the focus was primarily on women’s access to opportunities and positions that had been previously held by men in power. Without discounting the work these women have done, their activism often excluded many minorities, which led to Women of Colour and the LGBT+ community (to name only two) unable to enjoy the same successes. In light of this activists coined their own terms and progressed ideas of intersectionality.
This panel was integral in dispelling the falsehood that trans identities are a trend.
Panellists affirmed that being inclusive of trans students, really isn’t too hard. It requires basic human empathy and sensible changes to discriminatory policies and processes which are still controlled by a euro-centric gender binary. Ali mentioned the importance and validity of self-identification, because in reality most trans people do not have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) which is only acquired by going through the processes of the Gender Recognition Act.
Albeit all of this, there is hope! I think this is the most important takeaway from Murray Edwards’ policy change and Thursday’s panel. Dr Yotova informed us of the Gender Identity Bill, which is currently pending in parliament. This hopes to loosen up medical requirements and make the process of obtaining a GRC less intrusive and intimidating.
Murray Edwards’ policy change is still vital because there is always more work to be done. Even the Gender Identity Bill fails to recognising gender nonconforming and non-binary individuals. On a legal level, it is highly unrealistic to expect prospective students, especially school-leavers, to have completed the painful and lengthy process of changing their legally recognised gender before they apply. On top of this, the application process under UCAS only recognises a gender binary. Although this may not reflect the practical support for transgender students once they arrive at Cambridge, it certainly deters them from having the confidence to apply in the first place.
I personally am very proud of Lucy Cavendish College for hosting this panel, and will push for further awareness of trans issues here at Lucy, alongside campaigning for change within our own admissions policy. I was pleased to see President of the LCC SU, Ida Svenonius; Senior Tutor Dr Jane Greatorex; and many Lucy Alumni in the audience. I also must thank Admissions Tutor, Victoria Harvey for setting up the panel along with Dr Bogdan Popa. Most importantly I am so thankful for Aiden Greenall and Aly Hyde for volunteering their time and sharing their insight and struggles.
The new version of ‘Inclusivity Guidelines for Transgender Students in the University of Cambridge’ amended by Ali Hyde, will be released by CUSU LGBT+ soon.
Note: I do not claim to speak on behalf of the transgender community or any trans* or non-binary individuals.