You can’t spell ‘LGBTQ ally’ with a silent T

24 Jun 2019

Image: © nito/

This Pride month we must remember that the ‘T’ is not silent in LGBTQ, and we must listen to what the trans community has to say about their experiences in STEM and wider society.

We’re in the midst of a recruitment period here at Silicon Republic, and so I’ve been honing my senses for the key trait I look for in a new hire: a perpetual willingness to learn.

‘Willing to learn’ in the sense of being curious and ready to read up on new subjects to write about or new techniques to add to our arsenal, but also ‘willing to learn’ in the sense of accepting that what you think you know for certain can be upended sometimes.

I know from experience the value of realising you are wrong. In my years as a journalist, sub-editor and editor, I’ve picked up valuable knowledge from moments where what I thought were hard and fast rules were challenged.

Two Sundays ago, a letter signed by dozens of individuals from universities across the UK was published in The Sunday Times. This letter claimed that the “inappropriately close relationship” between UK universities and Stonewall UK, an LGBTQ equality charity, was “stifling” academia and was also highlighted in a separate article in the paper.

Specifically, the letter took issue with membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, which provides universities with guidance on how to be respectful of trans students and colleagues.

At least two open letters sprung up in response, throwing their support behind the safety and inclusion of all staff and students, including trans and gender-diverse people. One from The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEMM (TIGERinSTEMM) was published in the same newspaper yesterday (23 June) amounting to 1,900 signatures at last count. Another, published in the Independent, received thousands more.

What struck me about the original letter was how such a long list of academics appeared to lack that fundamental willingness to learn. They used their platform to decry practices that they believe hinder freedom of expression on matters of gender, yet it is they who refuse to listen to new perspectives or re-examine the evidence.

The people of Stonewall UK give voice to trans people and offer guidance informed by lived experience. I have personally been grateful for similarly helpful material from groups such as Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) and House of STEM, which has helped form our own guidelines on how to be respectful and not cause harm to a marginalised and increasingly maliciously targeted community.

Trans people don’t owe us an education, though, and while some trans community members display unrelenting patience in that regard, this is an undue burden placed upon them.

To be a good ally you must be prepared to listen. And always be willing to learn.

There’s plenty to read and watch online on the topic of non-binary sex and gender in science and nature. You can connect with House of STEM, TENI, TIGERinSTEMM, Stonewall UK and many more on social networks, which will refresh your feed with these perspectives. You can also listen to Bureau’s remarkable documentary on what it’s like to be trans in Ireland today.

The real ‘debate’ on gender, gender identity and what it all means is coming from queer, non-binary and trans communities. It is they who are challenging, not upholding, the stifling status quo.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.