University College London has become the first university to formally cut ties with LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, saying that its membership in Stonewall programs could prevent academic freedom and discussion around gender and sexuality.
UCL has announced it will end its engagement with the Stonewall Workplace Equity Index, which ranks employers on their policies, and their diversity plans, following a recommendation from the university’s top academics.
“After a period of discussion within our community and careful consideration of the issues, UCL has now made the decision not to re-join the Stonewall Diversity Champions Program or submit an offer to the Workplace Equality Index,” UCL said in a statement.
The university said its discussions were “based on thoughtful and respectful discussions” at the EDI Committee and its Academic Board, with the EDI panel voting to retain engagement with Stonewall.
But UCL management instead sided with the Academic Council, which voted against retaining the ties after an anonymous ballot.
“In assessing all opinions in this debate, the UCL senior leadership team concurred with the Academic Council’s advice on the fundamental need to support academic freedom and freedom of expression in an academic context, recognizing that a formal institutional commitment to Stonewall may have the effect of inhibiting academic work and discussion within UCL about Gender and gender identity,” the university said.
A UCL spokesperson said the university has an “unwavering commitment” to upholding the rights of LGBTQ+ staff and students. Senior management at UCL plans to create the LGBTQ+ Equality Cluster to “address all forms of inequality, marginalization and discrimination experienced by our fellow LGBTQ+ students” and develop a plan of action.
A Stonewall spokesperson said: “UCL decided not to renew its membership in the Champions for Diversity Program nearly two years ago in February 2020. Our work with organizations does not in any way affect their ability to support freedom of expression, but simply creates welcoming work environments for LGBTQ+ individuals – Which in 2021, should not be a controversial business.”
UCL – the UK’s largest university – was ranked 98th out of more than 400 employers who provided input to the Stonewall Workplace Equity Index in 2018. In 2014 it was the first university to join the Stonewall Global Diversity Champions programme.
But it emerged earlier this year that UCL had pulled out of the 2020 Diversity Champion program, which it said was an interim decision made as a result of a cost-cutting review during the Covid pandemic. Under the scheme, members paid a fee to Stonewall to evaluate and advise on internal equality policies.
UCL’s move comes as Stonewall has seen several prominent organizations, including the BBC and Ofcom, withdraw from the Champions for Diversity program in recent months. The University of Winchester also previously withdrew.