We're not in Stonewall's Top 100: that isn't good enough

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Stonewall, arguably the biggest and most significant organisation working towards rights for LGBT+ people, released its list of the Top 100 employers in terms of workplace equality earlier this week. Cambridge didn’t make the cut.

You might be asking yourself why this is relevant when Cambridge, though it is a place of work (as we know all too well) is hardly a corporate business like the Lloyds Banking Group, or an organisation like the Sussex Police. Other universities, however, are on the list and some, like Cardiff University and De Montfort University, are even quite high up – Cardiff places at number 23, and is one of five universities that come in the top 50.

This is clearly a matter for concern, not merely because at Cambridge we have a constant and overwhelming desire to be better than everyone else. Why doesn’t our performance in this list match up to our consistently high rankings in lists that consider education alone? Though we may occasionally be beaten by the ‘Other Place’, we have comfortably placed in at least the top five universities in the UK and the top ten in the world for an incredibly long time. And yet, in Stonewall’s smaller list of ‘Top Education Organisations’, we haven’t come in the top five.

Some wonder how Stonewall decides which organisations make the list, given the difficult nature of defining an LGBT+- friendly workplace or university. A system called the ‘Global Workplace Equality Index’ measures participating organisations against a number of criteria that include, to quote Stonewall’s study, “global antidiscrimination policies” and “LGBT staff networks”. Over 430 organisations took part in the 2017 Index, which just serves to show how Cambridge could have, and should have, done better.

In terms of Cambridge as a workplace, it is difficult to say how employment for LGBT+ people here can improve, since, as students, that area is very much off-limits to us. In a recent article for the Tab (yes, really – no one else has covered this yet), a spokesperson was quoted as saying that the University “supports its LGBT staff through an active LGBT+ Staff Network”, and mentioned the events that are put on for LGBT History Month in February. We can’t know exactly how well the University measures up to this beyond the Stonewall rankings themselves, but it is evident that there is room for improvement. Inevitably, any positive change at the level of the University’s employees will trickle down to improve matters at the student level.

There is also a slight difficulty that comes with the college system. Each college is independent, to an extent, and so it follows that the level of support for LGBT+ students is not consistent across all the colleges. Peterhouse, for example, has faced criticism for not flying the rainbow flag during LGBT History Month, which may have led to the decision to fly it this year. On a more superficial level, this might mean that some colleges have fewer social events for LGBT+ people, but it may also reflect a general level of ignorance or intolerance, particularly towards transgender people.

At this point, it is worth recognising what Cambridge does right, particularly through the efforts of its students. The CUSU LGBT+ network is active and engaged, and the LGBT+ reps at many colleges are driven to organise events that allow us to form a network of friendships across the University. Some colleges have introduced gender-neutral toilets. Most notably, the consent workshops held at the beginning of the year emphasised recognition from the start, and considered the nuances of different sexualities and gender identities. These positive aspects are the foundations upon which we need to build for the next generation of LGBT+ students. 

This issue is not a question of Cambridge having to be better than everyone else; this is a question of Cambridge having to be better for our own benefit. 

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