I read a very disturbing internal email this afternoon. I’m not going to quote the majority of it in order to preserve anonymity, but the central content is of concern to any current or future trans student in Higher Education.
Earlier this year, HESA [Higher Education Statistics Agency] confirmed a series of changes that they would be making to the HESA Student Record for the 2012/13 academic year, which would have an impact on some of the questions that students are asked during the application and enrolment process. A number of these changes relate to equality issues and the 2010 Equality Act and I thought it would be prudent for us to consult […]
The key changes of relevance are as follows:
(1) There is an existing field Student.GENDER which will from 2012/13 be replaced with Student.SEX. The new Student.SEX field will reflect ‘legal’ biological sex at birth and we have been advised that there will be only two valid entries for this field, either Male or Female.
(2) To complement the new Student.SEX field there will also be an additional field, Student.GENDERID, which is intended to reflect the student’s gender identity based on their own self-assessment. A response to this question, should we choose to ask it, would be optional for students. The ‘suggested question’ from the Equality Challenge Unit for eliciting this information is “Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were originally assigned at birth?” and it would be possible for students to respond with ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Information Refused’.
At my university, the current student.GENDER field allows students to identify as “female”, “male”, “other” or “prefer not to say” following intervention from trans activists and past Students’ Union welfare officers. This system, and any similarly progressive approach from other institutions, will be overturned by the new HESA guidelines.
My concerns are as follows:
1) What is “legal” sex? Is it:
(a) my birth sex? (in which case I’m male)
(b) what’s on my passport? (in which case I’m female)
(c) whether or not I have a gender recognition certificate? (in
which case I’m male)
[edit: a skim of the HESA guidelines shows that (a) is not the case, with the university apparently using the phrase “sex at birth” in error]
2) If (a) or (c), then the University is going to revert my “sex” on its forms. This will disclose I am trans to anyone using their records.
3) If (b), then anyone wishing to update their gender will have to out themselves by walking into the university administrative building and presenting their passport. I had to do this in 2005 and it caused all kinds of weird issues with the Students’ Union and my records. We changed the system in two stages (the last one is referred to in the letter) in order to prevent this from happening to anyone else.
4) The new system erases intersex people.
5) The new system erases people with a non-binary identity.
6) This whole approach has an extremely flawed methodology that will only invalidate the desired data!
I suspect my university doesn’t have much of a choice about how this is carried about, and neither will others. We urgently need to lobby HESA to reverse their policy on this.
I’ll aim to write a more coherent analysis of the situation (inc. the complex role of the Gender Recognition Act) when I’m feeling more coherent.