How Unite Students supports trans employees at work
7.2% of UK university applicants identified as LGBT+ when applying for university, according to UCAS and Stonewall’s 2021 report Next Steps – more than 2.5x the national average. 0.4% identified as trans, an increase of 86% in five years.
For LGBT+ History Month, George Moses – Student Experience Manager for Leeds South – shares his experience of transitioning while working at Unite Students, his journey to gender affirmation, and how student accommodation professionals can support students and colleagues going through this experience.
Tell us about your journey to gender affirmation.
So, my journey started relatively late – well, what people consider to be late. I’m 29 now, but I only started transitioning at 25.
I was a stereotypical case of someone growing up who didn’t really identify with women – but I’m from the Lake District and I didn’t meet anybody like me there, as it’s quite a conservative place. Until I went to university and started seeing things, going out to places like drag bars and meeting loads of LGBT people, I didn’t know people like me existed. So at that point I knew that I wanted to transition, but I wasn’t brave enough at that point.
I worried too much about what other people thought and how it would look, because when you transition – the medical side of things, anyway – it’s life changing. I can’t undo what I’ve done. So I was scared, but when I got to 25, I thought, “Why am I not living my life for me?” and decided to take the plunge.
At what point during that journey did you join Unite Students? How did you broach the topic in your new role, and what was that experience like?
I joined Unite Students six weeks after I had my first gender-affirming operation, a double mastectomy – also known as ‘top surgery’. When I applied for the role, I was very open about being trans and what I was doing, so explained that I’d need time off and that it would affect my start date.
They were very supportive from the outset and held the position for me until I was ready to join. When I did join, they made sure that I wasn’t doing anything that would damage or undo any of the work that’s been done, or hurt myself. They were brilliant, honestly.
What has your experience been like of being openly trans at work?
It’s been quite eye-opening for me. I went into lockdown as my old self and I came out of it fully transitioned, presenting entirely male and being George. I haven’t had much experience of how it looked in the workplace; at my old job, most of my colleagues were a bit older and they didn’t fully understand it.
When I moved to Leeds, being open at work was important to me – I’ve seen what it’s like when people don’t know anyone like you, as that was my experience, and it can be scary. But that’s just allowed me to teach people about what it means to be a trans person. We’re not scary; we just want to live a happy, comfortable life like anyone else. It’s been good getting to meet people from all different walks of life, where I’m probably the first trans person they’ve ever met, and being able to show them that.
Has the process of transition had any impact on your work? If so, how?
There’s been no impact in terms of my day-to-day role – if there’s been any impact, it’s only been a positive one, because I’ve been able to live out and proud. I’m completely, authentically myself and I’ve never had to self-censor about my transition. I’ve got an operation coming up in the next year, and people at work are happy for me and proud that I’m doing it. Being open has done nothing but help me to feel confident.
Has anything surprised you about the process of transitioning at work?
I was surprised by how much support I got from management. Whenever I’ve had dates for an operation or an appointment, it’s non-negotiable that I can go. They will also check in with me that I’m alright, as does the team – whether it’s above my role or below, everybody has been super supportive. I don’t think that I could have been in a better workplace to be transitioning right now, because we’ve got programmes that support trans people and we’re visible within the business.
Why is it important for Unite Students to sponsor National Student Pride?
I think it’s important because it shows that we’re an inclusive and welcoming place to live and work, for students and staff. Though as a world, we’re making shifts in terms of how we treat the LGBT community, it’s not over yet. So I think it’s really important that Unite Students is visible, and that we show that we’re doing our part and putting in the ground work.
What’s one thing you would want organisations to know about supporting a colleague through their transition?
What’s important is understanding that everybody’s transition is different. So I’m very vocal, I’m very out, I’m very publicly trans and unapologetic about it – but not everybody shares that experience. So I’d say it’s about celebrating and listening to all of us.
What advice would you give to student accommodation professionals supporting students or colleagues who are exploring their gender expression?
For me, information is power. I’ve supported someone who’s transitioning, and they’ve been waiting a long time because they haven’t known who to contact about some aspects of the process. I’ve been able to signpost them to the services they needed to contact, and now they’ve got a surgery consultation by going through those processes.
So, it’s about learning more about the trans community, particularly what support services are out there and learning how the healthcare works for us – that’s a big pinch point within the community and a big part of our journey. The more we all learn, the more we can support each other.
Unite Students is proud to be Gold Sponsors of National Student Pride for the second year running. You can learn more about the event and its history from our 2022 interview with founder Tom Guy and media team chair Celine Bagtas.