What is the gender expression fund?

LGBTQ+ students’ mental health and wellbeing is consistently among the lowest levels of all university students, and this experience is heightened for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. The Stonewall ‘Trans Report’ revealed that more than a third of trans university students (36 per cent) in higher education have experienced negative comments or behaviour from staff in the last year. This sits in the context of recent political rhetoric, which has seen a steady increase in transphobia, from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s comments that “a man is a man, and a woman is a woman”, to his recent jabs at Keir Starmer over transgender policy in the House of Commons.

It is subsequently increasingly difficult to experience university as a young transgender or gender diverse student. Mental health rates among LGBTQ+ students are low, with half of LGBTIQ+ people reporting to have experienced depression, whilst for transgender students, around half had considered taking their own life. Issues such as unsupportive households, gender dysphoria, and barriers to accessing healthcare all contribute to a lack of support for transgender students.

An investigation by The Oxford Student into whether Oxford was a welcoming place for transgender students highlighted that one of the main routes for support is through JCRs and MCRs. An SU LGBTQ+ campaign report on transgender issues, released in 2018, highlighted that 43% of students said that their first port of call for welfare was JCR representatives in a 2016 Welfare Report. 

for students from lower income backgrounds, extra expenses can be a significant barrier to accessing products for easing gender dysphoria

What support do JCRs offer, then? A significant welfare support that is available is the gender expression fund. This is a pot of money, provided by most JCRs, which can be accessed by trans and non-binary students in order to fund aspects of social transitioning. Balliol College’s website, which calls it a “gender expression fund grant”, outlines that it is available to “support students with the cost of items that help them feel comfortable with their gender presentation.” Pembroke College recently added a gender expression fund to their JCR constitution. Zephyr Chai, Pembroke’s LGBTQ+ JCR rep said that “the fund is crucial for ensuring that gender nonconforming students are able to be relieved of both the emotional burdens and financial investment that can come along with coming into your gender expression.”

The fund, which is available at most colleges, can cover the cost of a number of things, including but not limited to: the purchasing of binders, packers, wigs, makeup, or for services such as a haircut. Items such as these can be surprisingly expensive – a singular binder can cost around £40, and it’s incredibly important that clothing such as binders is done safely, with good quality products. For students from lower income backgrounds, or more generally, extra expenses can be a significant barrier to accessing the products needed to ease gender dysphoria, which in turn helps improve LGBTQ+ students’ mental health.

To access the funds, normally JCRs will have either links to a compensation form, or an application process. Some colleges also have processes of anonymised submissions, meaning that students do not need to be out to access this support. If you can’t find information on it on either your JCR website or information hub, normally speaking to the JCR LGBTQ+ can signpost you as to how to access this compensation.

Oxford LGBTQ+ Society (OULGBTQ+) also has a university-wide fund, which is available to those whose “welfare would be benefited by the purchase of gender-affirming items, but would otherwise be unable to afford them”, according to their website. They recommend trying to access college services before consulting this, and up to £50 can be claimed. 

Support such as the gender expression fund is vital for students struggling with gender dysphoria, and the mental health impact that comes with this. It is also becoming increasingly popular amongst other universities as well, with the University of Manchester having a dedicated website outlining the fund. Hopefully, support such as this will be widely available to all transgender students in the near future, and universities continue to expand the support given to LGBTQ+ students.

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