When a change isn't good enough

31st March 1995 at 01:00
When Britain's only women-only FE college discovered one of its students was a transsexual it expelled her. Estelle Maxwell reports. A male-to-female transsexual student fighting for reinstatement at Britain's only all-women further education college has been backed by civil rights campaigners.

Liberty, formerly the National Council for Civil Liberties, wants to represent Sara Jane Stevens as a test case for sex-swap individuals across the country.

The former aviation worker enrolled on a Fresh Start course at Hillcroft College, Surbiton, Surrey, last month without revealing details of her gender change and aimed to study psychology.

But her hopes of training for a career at the college, which has been single sex for 75 years and states in its prospectus that it does not discriminate on any grounds including sex or sexual orientation, were dashed after two weeks when she received a letter from the principal stating she must leave.

It said the college had been told she was a transsexual and advised by the Equal Opportunities Commission her status was still legally that of a man because her birth certificate could not be changed.

It said: "As Hillcroft is a women-only college and we are exempt under the Sex Discrimination Act in making provision only for women students, I am afraid I shall have to ask you to withdraw from the course as you are not eligible to be a student."

When Miss Stevens returned to the college in protest and refused to leave she was removed by the police. Later the college took out an injunction banning her from going within 100 yards of its grounds.

After several failed attempts to discuss the decision with the college, Miss Stevens is now calling for a meeting with its president, Baroness Lockwood, who was the first chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission 20 years ago. She said: "I have been told Baroness Lockwood would not support my case by the college principal to whom I have made a second appeal.

"I am no stranger to discrimination but I feel absolutely devastated at the way I have been treated. It is as if I have been dismissed."

Throughout the row the college has refused to comment on its decision. A spokeswoman said: "This is a confidential matter."

Liberty is now considering Miss Stevens' case along with several others involving transsexuals claiming to have been subject to sexual discrimination in a number of environments.

Despite Liberty's possible intervention, the 46-year-old, who underwent a sex change operation three years ago at London's Charing Cross hospital, holds out little hope of a reprieve.

Miss Stevens said: "I wanted to go to Hillcroft because it was an all-female environment. When I was 15 I was raped and nine years ago when I studied at Hammersmith and West London College on a mixed course I was moved into the female section of the college because I was assaulted.

"I decided not to say anything about my sex when I enrolled. As far as I am concerned I am not a male and there is no way I could go to a mixed college given my past experience, but they say I am not a female. I am being treated like a non-person.

"The term transsexual applies to people who are waiting for the operation. Once I had the operation I became a female. I have gone through hell to become a woman and as far as I am concerned that is what I am.

"What male college in its right mind would take me on in skirt, shirt and earrings? Where does that leave for me to go?"

Baroness Lockwood was un-available for comment.

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