Student’s very first gender expression fund (GEF) has been launched by a student-led team supported by the Students’ Guild. The fund is for all trans, non-binary, intersex, gender diverse, and gender non-conforming university students in Exeter to gain access to gender-affirming items.
Through the fund, each student can claim up to £80 per academic year. It can cover a range of items and support such as new clothes, chest binders, packers, and make-up to name change services and travel to and from medical appointments or counselling therapy. The fund can not cover things that are not gender-affirming items or services, in addition to treatments, prescriptions, and other medical procedures.
Through the fund, each student can claim up to £80 per academic year.
“I really want to highlight that you don’t need to overly justify yourself when applying,” says Hallow Foster, student leader of the fund, in an interview with Exeposé. “The criteria are essentially: Is it a gender-affirming item/service? Is it within the £80 per student, per year limit and can a receipt be provided?”
There are two methods of accessing the Gender Expression Fund. Either through reimbursement or Guild ordering. With both methods, one must apply to the GEF through a form on the website. The application is then reviewed by a student staff member in the Guild Community Representation team. If the application is successful, the Guild will either order the item for the applicant to pick up at the Guild, or one can order it themselves and claim the money back.
Initially conceptualised by the trans representative of the LGBTQ+ Society last year, Xar Burney, who noticed other universities with a fund and wanted to establish one in Exeter. A group of students began the work in early 2023. Hallow now leads the initiative as others have graduated, a feat that has not been easy, with Hallow putting in hundreds of hours working on heading up the fund. Guild involvement came into play in March of this year.
Most of these are costs that many cis people won’t have, meaning that trans and non-binary people are automatically placed at a financial disadvantage, even if you don’t consider the other forms of financial disadvantage many of us have to face (such as estrangement or housing and job discrimination).– Hallow Foster
“In short, the GEF was created because we wanted to help reduce the extra financial pressure of being trans and non-binary” Hallow highlights. Through a couple of surveys of the trans and non-binary community, the student leaders determined that the cost of transitioning varied from £9 to nearly £2000, with the average of those costs being around £180 per person.
Hallow cites the survey put by them highlighting students spending around £40 for a binder, with most individuals needing more than one throughout their life. Others mention packers (costing £5-£10), clothing, or beard dye (£5-£10). A consistent answer to high costs was the price of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), with one individual stating they spent around £400 for six months’ worth of HRT, a treatment they will likely need to continue doing for most of their life.
“Most of these are costs that many cis people won’t have, meaning that trans and non-binary people are automatically placed at a financial disadvantage, even if you don’t consider the other forms of financial disadvantage many of us have to face (such as estrangement or housing and job discrimination)” says Hallow.
In the University’s EDI Vision 2019-2025, one strategic objective is “Success, Fairness and Equity for All” indicating an urge to help “All students and staff to have the best possible outcomes free from the barriers of prejudice and discrimination”. Hallow explains that the fund is one of the ways that the Guild is helping to mitigate the barriers of inequalities.
The Guild expresses that they “are very pleased to be able to offer funding and support for this initiative to ensure that all trans, non-binary, intersex, gender diverse, and gender non-conforming students are able to express themselves.” They add that they are proud to have worked collaboratively with students in order to scope, establish and launch the fund and will continue to take on feedback to ensure it is accessible to all who need it. We are keen to work with students who have ideas for similar initiatives to ensure that all student communities here at Exeter are able to thrive.”
Hallow believes that the GEF is more than just a monetary fund. It signifies the University’s acceptance of trans and non-binary people. With an 11% increase in national hate crimes motivated against transgender people, Hallow believes that this fund is one way both the Guild and University are publicly declaring their support for trans and non-binary people which Hallow states “is becoming increasingly rarer for companies to do.”
Just last June, a long list of brands had dialled back on their open support of LGBTQ+ people. With a trend of right-wing boycotting in the US and UK, brands have been trepiduous to continue open support. Hallow is thrilled that the University did not fall into this category.
Still, Hallow comments that they “won’t kid [themself] into thinking that the GEF will get rid of transphobia on campus”, but knowing the Guild is willing to give £4000 to trans people “just so they can be themselves, is hopefully reassuring that trans people are accepted and wanted here.”
In a national inquiry by Exeposé, an alarming 16,649 individuals aged 18-25 are on the waiting list to receive gender-affirming care. In Exeter alone, the Gender Identity Clinic estimates a seven-year waiting time despite hundreds of individuals joining the waiting list each month. Over half (54%) of the clients are aged 18-25 as of August. Over half (55%) of the referrals are within the same age cohort. Meanwhile, 30% of that age range are receiving care and even fewer (24%) have completed their treatment. Hallow believes that the GEF is one way to mitigate the wait times that are causing distress among gender-diverse students.
Dr Debby Jackson, founder of Gender Identity South West, one of Exeter’s only gender diversity specialists told Exeposè that in addition to the GEF the University and Guild could provide other measures of support.
Dr Debby Jackson, founder of Gender Identity South West, one of Exeter’s only gender diversity specialists told Exeposé that in addition to the GEF the University and Guild could provide other measures of support. Specific therapy for gender dysphoria and related issues provided by the student health centre; the recognition of transgender issues as an important factor of university life; options for LGBTQ+ friendly halls to allow for students to be more comfortable with their transition; and the look into university medical curriculums to help with future GP’s understandings of trans and non-binary medical and psychological elements.
Hallow ends on a hopeful, personal note: “As a non-binary person, the GEF was how I could give back to the community that has helped me learn who I am and love it.” They explain that the GEF could make a dent in the inaccessibility of trans and non-binary healthcare.
For more information go to the GEF website or the GEF Instagram. There are also groups students can get in contact with if they need more assistance with the application such as the GEF student team email (email@example.com), the Exeter Guild Advice Team (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Exeter Guild Communities Team (email@example.com), the University EDI Team (EDI@exeter.ac.uk), or the LGBTQ+ Society (LGBTQplus@exeterguild.com).