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Survey shows widespread LGBT+ discrimination in higher education

6 May 2021 | last updated: 7 May 2021

  • New report suggests over three-quarters (77%) of LGBT+ staff have considered leaving the sector.
  • 29% of respondents said promotion criteria negatively impact LGBT+ staff.
  • Three in 10 (30%) said they have experienced homophobic language.

A report published by UCU, exploring the working conditions of LGBT+ staff in higher education, found that homophobic, biphobic  and transphobic discrimination remain widespread in UK universities.

The report, 'Challenging LGBT+ exclusion in UK higher education', presents findings from a pilot survey carried out by UCU, the University of Sussex, University of Kent, University of Essex, and Glasgow Caledonian University. The study analysed 122 survey responses from LGBT+ members of staff from six different universities across England, Scotland, and Wales.

Key findings include:

  • over three-quarters (77 %) of respondents have thought about leaving higher education
  • almost half (47%) have experienced mental health issues
  • more than four in 10 (41) % have experienced burnout
  • three in 10 (30%) have experienced homophobic language
  • 29% said promotion criteria negatively impact LGBT+ people
  • of those identifying as women, non-binary or other, 26%, 25% and 33% respectively have witnessed derogatory language towards others
  • almost half (47%) indicated that the decolonisation work in their institution does not include working on issues related to gender diversity and sexual orientation
  • all black LGBT+ respondents reported either personal discriminatory experiences or having witnessed derogatory language towards others.

The report recommends a number of areas for action to address LGBT+ people's experience of discrimination within the sector. These include clear messaging from institutions that staff should not be subject to homophobic or transphobic treatment; developing campaigns on mental health which centre the experiences of Black LGBT+, trans and non-binary people; and linking queer scholarship on black and LGBT+ lives to decolonising the curriculum initiatives. Further recommendations will be launched in January 2022 after further research and consultation with LGBT+ staff in higher education.

UCU head of equality and policy Jenny Sherrard said: 'These findings should make sober reading for university management. UCU is determined to end homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within academia but there is clearly a lot of work to do before universities become inclusive spaces for LGBT+ staff. The report sets out some useful areas of focus for how we might combat discrimination of LGBT+ people. Key to any progress will be recognising that meaningful LGBT+ inclusion is bound up with wider struggles linked to job insecurity, health and wellbeing and decolonisation.'

Report co-authors Paul Boyce, Trude Sundberg and Róisín Ryan-Flood said: 'As well as experiencing widespread job insecurity and mental health issues, our research shows that too many LGBT+ staff still find themselves on the receiving end of homophobic and transphobic language in the workplace. Moreover, they face a range of indirect discrimination in higher education such as a lack of representation in curricula, failures in institutional support, and unequal research opportunities.  As we move into the next phase of this research, we will seek to better understand the challenges faced by LGBT+ staff in universities, as well as how we can effectively address them.'

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