University criticised for suggesting staff hide their sexuality when travelling to Dubai campus

University criticised for suggesting staff hide their sexuality when travelling to Dubai campus

4th December 2019 0 By Mathias Stephen
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Advice ‘highlights a disregard for LGBT+ workers’, union general secretary says

The University of Birmingham has come under fire for guidance on its website suggesting that staff should hide their sexuality when travelling to the institution’s campus in Dubai.

Academics, students and members of the LGBT+ community have condemned the safeguarding advice for university employees attending the Dubai branch as “appalling” and “shameful”.

The document, created by LGBT+ staff and PhD students at the university, suggests staff should not wear clothes or accessories advocating LGBT+ equality and they should not disclose their sexuality publicly on social media.

University employees should also change their next of kin if it is a same-sex partner and avoid taking e-readers with same-sex literature downloaded on them, the guidelines say.

Dr Amy Burge, an English literature lecturer at the University of Birmingham, told The Independent: “The guidance is counter to everything that the university stands for as an employer committed to equalities.”

The advice from Rainbow Network committee, which was shared on Twitter following the news that the university had begun the second phase of its Dubai campus, sparked outrage among staff and students.

Emily, a physics student at the university, tweeted: “Shocked and ashamed that you’re still openly promoting a campus that goes against all the ethics and values that you (obviously pretend) to promote at @unibirmingham – going as far as to publish behavioural guidelines for LGBT+ staff/ students.”

James Bradley, a scientist at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Shameful to open and promote a campus where you cannot support your LGBT+ staff.”

Lorna Campbell, who works at the University of Edinburgh, added that the guidelines were “utterly appalling”.

Dr Burge, an equalities officer at the local University and College Union (UCU) branch, added that members were worried that any further expansion of the campus in the United Arab Emirates – which opened in September last year – could result in staff “coming under more pressure” to work in Dubai.

Homosexual sex is illegal in the United Arab Emirates and same-sex marriages are not recognised. The UK Foreign Office advice says there have been some reports of individuals being punished for homosexual activity, particularly where there is any public element, or their behaviour has caused offence.

Jo Grady, general secretary of UCU, said: “Before entering into these kinds of partnerships, universities need to set out clearly how they will protect their staff and ensure all their campuses are safe for all staff and students. Not to clumsily ask staff to keep their head down and stay out of trouble.”

She added: “This advice highlights a disregard for LGBT+ staff and is a dereliction of the university’s duty to stand up for human rights and academic freedom.

“The advice looks like an afterthought from an institution concerned about chasing money with staff as shock absorbers.”

A spokesperson for the Rainbow Network, a group of LGBT+ staff and PhD students at the university, said: “The top priority of the Rainbow Network committee, and the reason for producing this list of top tips, is to support the safety and wellbeing of University of Birmingham staff and PhD students, and this is our goal in providing this advice.

“This does not compromise our overarching objective of creating a workplace where everybody is free to express their identity freely without fear of consequence.”

A University of Birmingham spokesperson said: “As the university increases its global activity and presence, the challenge remains how to translate our strongly-held commitment to equality and diversity in countries that have significant legal, social and cultural differences to the UK.

“Our approach has been to find common ground between our commitment and the equally important need to ensure, as far as is possible, the safety of our staff and students.

“Our focus remains on supporting their safety and wellbeing, wherever they work or study. We take extensive steps to avoid unintentionally outing LGBT+ employees and students, or their partners, when working globally, as is consistent with best practice and external advice.”

They added: “The top tips document has been produced by the Rainbow Network, following extensive discussion with members and the university, to provide helpful guidance, adding to the range of other advice provided by the university.”

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