LSE quietly expands exceptions to discrimination policy

Published On: October 8th, 2023

The LSE has quietly revised its Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying policy this month. The new policy was posted on their website sometime in early October 2023. We have received reports from UCU and Unison union members that both unions were consulted about these changes in August. However, it appears the Student Union was not consulted.

LSE Rejoin Stonewall has compared the old policy to the current policy in an Acrobat PDF Comparison (requires Acrobat Reader to view). We summarise some of the main changes below.

Expanding exceptions to discrimination

The new policy expands the right of the LSE to participate in “justified” discrimination within the full scope of UK. This is possible whenever a “legitimate aim” outweighs the cost of discrimination. The LSE emphasises in its new policy that one of those aims is academic freedom.

The context of this expansion is a number of rollbacks on LGBTQ+ rights at the LSE this year. This includes the launch of an “Academic Freedom” group with strong anti-trans ties, with one committee member initiating a transphobic twitter mob attack against the LGBTQ+ staff network Spectrum.

Discrimination can be legally justified when is determined to be a legitimate business aim, such as when UK airlines discriminate against blind pilots.

The LSE recently expanded its discrimination policy to the full extent of what is allowed by the UK Equality Act 2010. The yellow text below was added in the new policy:

When discrimination may be lawful and the Occupational Requirement:<br />
(4.8) The following types of discrimination may be justified in certain circumstances: indirect discrimination, discrimination because of something connected to an individual’s disability, direct age discrimination. Where the following three circumstances may apply: Positive action, to help a disadvantaged or underrepresented group; objective justification, when an employer can prove a legitimate need for less favourable, treatment; using protected characteristics in recruitment. Under the Equality Act 2010, there can be objective justification for discrimination where both of the following apply: there's a 'legitimate aim', such as a genuine business need or a health and safety need, and the discrimination is 'proportionate, appropriate and necessary'---this means the legitimate aim is more important than any discriminatory effect.

The LSE clarifies in a new addition to an earlier section that its most central “legitimate aims” that might allow from discrimination include academic freedom:

The School is also committed to protecting and promoting freedom of speech within the law and as such this Discrimination, Harassment and Bulling Policy operates in accordance with the School’s Code of Practice on Free Speech. The School is also committed to academic freedom and critical analysis within the law, for academic staff to be able to question, challenge and debate new ideas and opinions. There are instances where this may be limited by law where it is necessary to prevent crime, for national security purposes, public safety or to prevent unlawful discrimination and harassment. The School’s Code of Practice on free speech can be found at (URL)

Update 25 October: a revision to the LSE Code of Practice on Free Speech is being made as well. This was discussed before the Academic Board on 25 October 2023.

Errors and failures to explicitly protect against transphobia

The new discrimination policy, like the old one, still lacks explicit protections against transphobia. It does not include any explicit statements or examples about intentional misgendering, or intentional refusal to respect a person’s pronouns.

However, the new policy does add a line to its section on Harassment based on Sexual Orientation (p.17), including not just homophobic but “biphobic or transphobic” remarks as examples of “homophobic” harassment:

Homophobia is a term used to describe a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). It may be directed against individuals or groups of people and harassment in this case is behaviour which can be defined as unwanted conduct violating a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment. Examples may include but are not limited to: Homophobic, biphobic or transphobic remarks or unwelcome jokes; verbal threats to disclose sexualit; derogatory comments.

Notably, transphobia is not discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation describes who a person loves. Gender describes a person’s gender experience or presentation. Transphobia is discrimination on the basis of gender, and more specifically genders that are trans.