• September 24, 2022

Straight White Men Banned From Attending “Equality” Conference

A lecturers’ union is refusing to let its officers take part in debates at an equality summit if they are white, straight, able-bodied men.

The equality conference of the University and College Union said that members must declare their ‘protected characteristic’ – whether they are gay, disabled, female or from an ethnic minority – when applying to attend.

Activists say that it means representatives who do not qualify cannot participate in all of the discussions – even though they have been elected by their union branch. They would be barred from ‘break-out’ sessions that organisers claim are a ‘safe space’ for those with the ‘protected characteristics’ to talk openly about their situations.

There are four sections of the conference – for women, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities. Though there were also some ‘joint sessions’ last year, for break-out discussions reps must have the relevant ‘characteristic’.

That means reps would be barred from debates on areas they were not affected by, and a straight, white man who was not disabled would be unable to attend any. Yesterday critics branded the policy ridiculous – arguing that people from all walks of life can be dedicated to the cause of equality.

Emma-Jane Phillips, who sits on the UCU equality committee, said: ‘Equality reps are passionate about equality regardless of their own situation. To infer that someone does not understand someone’s situation just because you don’t tick a box is insulting.’

The Northumbria University lecturer said it meant some reps would have to lie about having a protected characteristic to be able to attend – something she said they would be unwilling to do.She told Times Higher Education magazine: ‘It is ridiculous that people who regard equality as their life can’t attend our equality conference.’

The issue was raised at UCU’s congress, held in Liverpool last week, when a motion was proposed to give equality reps the automatic right to attend conferences without having to ‘self-identify’. However, it was defeated – the only motion not to pass during the summit’s opening day.

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