The National Union of Students faces controversy after passing a motion at its 2016 LGBT+ campaign conference that aims to limit the number of gay men represented in committee positions.
Motion 408, which states that “gay men do not face oppression as gay men within the LGBT+ community and do not need a reserved place on society committees” has been widely criticised by students and the LGTB+ community, as it calls on UK universities to abolish LGBT+ society committee positions reserved for gay men. The same societies may hold reserved places for lesbian, trans and bi sexual officers. The annual conference, held in Sheffield from the 15th to the 17th of March and was attended by NUS delegates from UK universities. This latest controversy comes in the wake of the NUS being accused of “no-platforming” the prominent gay rights activist Peter Tatchell.
Strong opposition to the passing of Motion 408 has come from the LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall. A spokesperson said: “we believe that LGBT societies should represent the full diversity of the LGBT movement, including the multiple minority diversities that exist within it”. They also state that “gay men experience homophobia and depression daily, both inside and outside the LGBT community… the fight against homophobia isn’t over yet”. They argue that “the best way to reflect diversity is to proactively engage with and encourage others to apply for positions… rather than excluding specific parts of the community”. The NUS has responded in defence of the motion, stating that “the NUS itself does not have any committee places reserved solely for men, because we recognise that the LGBT community is far wider than just men”.
The union does, however, reserve places for women and employs a full-time women’s officer. Opposition to the motion consisted of arguments that men in sexual relationships with other men are disproportionately at risk of both violence and HIV.
The seven delegates to the conference from the University of East Anglia all voted in favour of passing the motion. Lucy Auger, the Women’s Place delegate, said that: “In LGBT+ societies, gay men face oppression… [but this is] not due to being male. I believe it is important to replace positions reserved for men, with ‘open place’ positions on LGBT+ committees”.
[su_spoiler title=”Is this motion everything we should expect from the NUS?” style=”simple” icon=”chevron-circle” anchor=”Comment”]When I read the motion, my initial reaction was an outburst of profuse profanity. However, upon reflection my reaction has shifted. I thought I cared; I was wrong – I don’t. It’s exasperating watching the infighting and hostility rage within the NUS. It is not possible to take the NUS seriously – this should be no different.
Proposing to drop gay representatives is simply another reason why the NUS is not a seriously credible organisation. Motion 408 explicitly states that “Misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia” are more likely to be present in LGBT+ societies which are “dominated by white cis gay men”.
Moreover, “Gay men do not face oppression as gay men within the LGBT+ community”. Basically, the NUS are glibly dismissing individuals on a collective basis. Isn’t this the very thing that they supposedly fight against? Apparently not. They are so astute in their assertion of a direct correlation between forms of prejudice and being homosexual. It is the utter wisdom of the NUS to suppose that oppression against homosexuals is offset by their sex.
Once again, the NUS have proven themselves utterly incompetent. Motion 408 is a pathetically puerile proposition, but it proves one thing: the pernicious infighting and oppression-Olympics is only preventing progress.
Turning against one another in a bid to claim the title of ‘most oppressed’ only serves to diminish the wider cause of equality. It is, quite simply, a race to the bottom. The NUS are reiterating their core principle: you have a penis so shut up.
Tom Sellars, news writer[/su_spoiler]
Elliot Folan, the Trans Place delegate and Chair of the LGBT+ Caucus, added that “men are often over-represented on LGBT+ Society committees. There are limited spaces on those committees and we should represent BME people, trans people and women, not men who hold lots of leadership positions within our movement”.
The Black Place delegate Rhys Purtill, who is also Deputy Chair of the LGBT+ Caucus, also outlined his reasons for voting in support of the motion, explaining that “there is a difference between the need for representation and the need for support”. He described gay men as “overrepresented within the LGBT+ community,” however he acknowledged that “everyone needs support and we must continue to provide that”.
Charlotte Earney, Students with Disabilities Place delegate, said: “The rep positions in Pride societies are for those oppressed in these LGBT+ spaces, which have for years been dominated by white cis gay men. When there is rarely any representation of ace, non-binary, pan and even bi and trans people in these spaces, I am not convinced that we need a reserved space for gay men”.
The seven delegates will be holding a round-up of the conference at the next meeting of the UEA LGBT+ Caucus, which will take place in the Green Room, Union House, at 5.30pm on 13th April.
UEA’s remaining three NUS LGBT+ delegates, Chris Jarvis, Jo Swo and Jack Robinson, were unavailable for comment.