February 2019

Gender neutral facilities at UCB welcomed by transitioning students

Read time: approx 3 mins

A UCB student who recently underwent gender reassignment has said the opening of new gender neutral facilities at the University “means the world”.

Emma-Jane Burness, who was born male but knew she wanted to be female aged 12, welcomed the new changing facilities and toilets at Summer Row, built to answer rising demand.

“Before, I felt awkward having to choose whether to use the male or female toilets,” said the 26-year-old, who is currently studying a master’s in Aviation Management at UCB.

“I felt like I was constantly making sure I was making the right choice, not just for me, but for other people. The easiest option was the disabled toilet, which essentially doubles up as a gender neutral toilet, but then disabled people wouldn’t have access if they needed it. Knowing these new facilities are there takes away that level of stress and there’s going to be a group of students going through transitioning that will really appreciate this.

“It might seem like a little thing to some people, but it means the world to me.”

Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there's a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. According to official figures from the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), as many as 50 children a week are referred to the UK’s leading gender identity clinic, up from just two in 2009-10.

The new gender neutral facilities at UCB, which have five dry changing cubicles, five showers and wet changing cubicles and two toilets, are designed to meet today’s “privacy needs”.

Tom Hacker from UCB Estates said: “In the past year, in particular, we’ve seen a definite increase in demand for gender neutral facilities, which may be the result of a rise in media coverage, with many leading institutions now opting for a gender neutral approach.

“Through the Guild and Student Services’ Health and Wellbeing team, we had around 25 requests from students and five from staff, and researched how best to deliver the facilities at UCB, looking at those offered by the NHS and the likes of University of Birmingham.

“Ultimately, the facilities promote and encourage equality at UCB and cater for the needs of everyone. They are just like any other changing facility, but meet the privacy needs of the user and anyone, including staff and stakeholders, are very much welcome to use them.

Transition support

Emma-Jane, who is the Vice President for Education and Representation for UCB’s Guild of Students, had already started transitioning before she joined UCB as a BA (Hons) Aviation and Airport Management undergraduate in 2014.

“I came to UCB when I was 22 and while I was really enjoying the course, I wasn’t comfortable with myself. I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do well, but was doing it for someone else. I felt in limbo. I told my lecturers how I was feeling and they said they would fully support me in what I was going through. This support showed in my grades. In my first year, I was graded a 2:2, the next year, it was a 2:1 and I finally graduated with a first class degree.”

As for the future, Emma-Jane has big plans for her career. “I’ve always had an interest in transport and while I don’t know exactly what I want to do yet, I would like to have a high end management role one day.”

For more information and support, please email the Health and Wellbeing Team at wellbeing@ucb.ac.uk or call 0121 604 1000 ext. 2220. Alternatively, you can visit the team in Student Services on the 7th floor of UCB’s Summer Row building. Find out more.

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