University Drafting New “Gender Affirmation Policy” Condemning Transphobia

9 August 2021

[content warning: transphobia]

The University is drafting a new “gender affirmation policy” that may ban public acts deemed transphobic or attacking gender diversity.

According to The Age, Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell had “warned” staff last June that their right to free speech does not excuse or protect them from causing harm against transgender people.

This comes after a petition launched by the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Queer Political Action Collective in response to second-year Winter Philosophy subject Feminism.

The Queer Political Action Collective claimed that the unit’s transphobic content as well as staff conduct violated the Student Charter.

University Associate Professor Holly Lawford-Smith, who coordinates the subject, also faced further scrutiny after launching a website February this year in response to Australian legislation that she claims “replaces sex with gender identity”.

The website invites cisgender women to share how their encounters with transgender women have “impacted” them.

The draft policy by the University will prohibit staff from contributing to public discourses if there is the potential to harm Transgender, Intersex, and Gender Diverse (TIGD) students.

“Where the university determines that an activity or event poses an unacceptable risk of harm to [transgender and gender-diverse] members of the university community, it may determine not to conduct or host the activity or event on those grounds (in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Speech Policy),” reads the draft policy.

However, non-binary university student Marcie di Bartolomeo says that this is not enough.

“There should be more of an emphasis on harm minimisation to trans and gender-diverse members of the university community such as myself, and not just when that harm is at a certain magnitude,” they said.

“There should be more focus on preventing the harm perpetuated by transphobic behaviour, in addition to intervening in cases where there is noticeable harm and it’s already having a noticeable impact on the trans and gender-diverse university community.”

Dr. Lawford-Smith has denounced the draft policy, claiming that it is “terrible [and] an overreach”.

“I guess the worry in terms of what we’ve seen in the last few years is that there has been a lot of exaggeration or concept creep around what it means to be harmed or to be, quote-unquote, ‘safe’ on campus, where that’s started to mean not having your ideas challenged.”

Vice-Chancellor Maskell understood that there were “deep disagreements and widely divergent views amongst [the University] community” but asserted that “transgender people are first and foremost people”.

The University’s draft policy against transphobia is not unheard of as other universities across Victoria have implemented their own policies.

Monash University has their Resolution of Unacceptable Behaviour & Discrimination Procedure to address transphobia within their university community. Monash also has a Gender Affirmation/Transition in the Workplace Procedure to support TIGD staff members.

Transgender student and UMSU Women’s Office Bearer Srishti Chatterjee says that “there should absolutely be measures to suspend staff who encourage transphobic rhetoric” but they remain “absolutely suspicious of what the university deems “unacceptable”.”

“This year is the National Surveys on Student Safety. Surveys like this have usually revealed that the University …. have actually continued to do extremely poorly in terms of protecting the safety of its marginalised students and staff,” they said.

“So this is their rush to sound “more progressive”, to “look better”, to avoid having bad press. I’d say this is a win for the years of campaigning from students and staff, we’ve always kept at it. Although it will be celebrated that way, this is not a chancellery win. It’s a people win.”

The policy has yet to be announced to staff.

UMSU has called for Dr. Lawford-Smith to be suspended until she has proved a commitment to providing a safe and healthy environment for TIGD and sex worker students and staff.

 

(Image Source: The University of Melbourne)


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