Transformation at UP: Responding to the needs of gender-diverse individuals

Posted on June 02, 2021

The University of Pretoria (UP) is committed to an inclusive, affirming and transformed institutional culture, curriculum, campus and residence life. Its Anti-discrimination Policy is therefore focused on creating a safe environment in which its students and staff members can learn and work. This is an all-encompassing policy that prevents unfair discrimination, hate speech, harassment, violence based on prohibited grounds, retaliation and the promotion of substantive equality. A particular kind of discrimination that is not often considered is that concerning gender diversity. This has led to the adoption of a supporting document to the Anti-discrimination Policy by the University: the Trans Protocol.

Since universities are the microcosms of the environments within which they operate, issues related to discrimination are not unique to UP. For this reason, organisational policies can never be separated from social issues. However, while UP’s Anti-discrimination Policy explicitly addresses discrimination based on gender, sex, gender identity, gender expression and intersex status, people who are gender diverse may experience other forms of discrimination or subtle “othering”. These can include bureaucratic issues while pursuing their studies or performing duties within the scope of their employment, challenges around residence placement, difficulties using bathroom and sports facilities, and name-calling, judgement, harassment and shaming as they go about their daily lives.

The Trans Protocol serves as a guideline to understand, manage and respond to the needs of trans, intersex, gender non-conforming and non-binary students and staff members at UP. This is an ever-shifting terrain, and the Protocol is designed at a time when binary identities are the only legally recognised identities in the country. Several stakeholders were involved in the drafting and championing of the Protocol, including the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender, the Transformation Office, UP&OUT (the University’s official LGBTQIA+ society), #SpeakOutUP (a campaign to provide a non-sexist, non-discriminatory working, living and study environment for UP’s students and staff), trans students and staff, the Department of Residence Affairs, the Student Counselling Unit, the Student Representative Council (SRC) and the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) Unit of the Centre for Human Rights.

A protocol such as this is an opportunity to prevent discrimination in a rights-promoting way, and address discrimination should it happen. It allows students and staff members who wish to start gender transitioning to be assisted to manage their transitioning and be protected from discrimination or harm. Examples include students who wish to change their names or sex descriptor on identity documents; those who wish to commence with body-altering hormones and surgeries to allow their gender presentation to match their inner gender identity, which may be different to the sex they were assigned at birth; or those who wish to come out as trans.

In addition, staff who are joining UP, or students who are studying at the institution for the first time, will be able to have their needs addressed and fears allayed. Furthermore, any student of staff member who is gender non-conforming or non-binary, and therefore at possible risk of othering or discrimination, will be able to find protection as the knock-on effect of work aimed at trans and intersex members of the UP community.

The broader aim of the Protocol is to eradicate discrimination against affected individuals, and build an inclusive, positive, affirming environment and institutional culture at the University that recognises gender diversity.

The document outlines the following practical ways to support and assist UP students and staff members who are in need of assistance with issues related to gender diversity:

  • Support of the view that there should be no specific medical requirements to validate a transitioning process: over and above legal requirements, people have a right to self-define.
  • Academic support to individuals who are preparing to transition to make up, if necessary, assignments, projects, class tests, semester tests or exams they may have to miss in order to attend medical or psychological appointments, and work-related support (for staff) to meet work deadlines and performance requirements.
  • Emotional support in the form of the Student Counselling Unit and the Employee Assistance Programme on all campuses, where possible. Where this is not possible, alternative provisions will be made, such as referrals to local support systems.
  • Providing individuals with information on how to begin the process of altering their records in line with alterations to their identity documents and other legal documentation.
  • Staff and student sensitisation to the needs of trans and gender-diverse students and staff by providing specialised training skills so that staff can manage sensitisation training and meetings held in spaces where a trans student or staff member is transitioning.
  • Providing ongoing support to address bullying, harassment and stigma.
  • Changes to records and other administrative matters once sex descriptors, gender markers and names of current students and staff have been officially changed.
  • Giving students the option, from 2021, to register with the gender titles Mr, Ms or the gender-neutral Mx.
  • Ensuring that accommodation arrangements are sensitive to the needs of a trans person or anyone who is gender diverse.
  • Making gender-neutral bathrooms available for trans students or staff members who wish to make use of such facilities in ways that are respectful, dignified and safe.
  • Respecting the confidentiality of students and staff members by only sharing details of their trans status and transitioning with their written permission in the interests of providing them with the support, safety, equality and dignity to which they are entitled.

The University’s Trans Policy will initially be reviewed annually, and subsequently every two years to ensure that it is still meaningful and relevant, and meets the needs of trans (and intersex) students and staff members.

According to Pierre Brouard, Acting Director of the University’s Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender, this is relatively new territory in South African places of work. He welcomes this Protocol as it opens up a conversation and space for anybody who might not be interested in specific categories of gender in terms of how they identify or relate to themselves and other people. It is a form of recognition that emboldens and empowers people who had previously experienced some perceived form of discrimination.

The University’s Anti-discrimination Policy is available at:

The Trans Protocol is available at:

- Author Department of Institutional Advancement

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