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Setting the record straight on equality

Thursday 31-03-2016 - 14:32

Specific positions are about recognising the vast diversity of our movement and existence of marginalised groups – even within our own community. These actions contribute towards better and safer spaces for all LGBT+ students enabling us to be truly representative of all LGBT+ people.

Things have certainly changed within the campaign over the years. But to achieve these changes activists have risked being arrested, outed and even their lives to get us to where we are today. Entire generations were brought up without the education they deserved. Hundreds of thousands lived in fear every single day. Thousands took their own lives because they just couldn't face it anymore. The fact that as a gay man I can now get married is a shining example of just how far the idea of 'tolerance' has changed and developed. The fights of the past made that possible, and to have even played a very small part in that campaign a few years ago was certainly a privilege. It was the people who gave their lives, who stood up for their rights for years and years to this struggle, to whom we should be most thankful for.

Whilst things have changed, they are certainly not where they should be. For the most marginalised in our society that is a daily reality. Most recently, and unfortunately not for the first time, I was punched in the face and spat at on whilst getting the night bus home a few weeks’ ago. Just for being gay, just for being on that bus. Just for existing as ‘me’. So imagine my surprise when I opened a newspaper and loaded up Twitter to find my campaign being called out by our community for saying that gay men no longer face oppression. I can assure you that being punched on that bus was a reminder that we certainly do. But we also have to look past the headlines and I want to set the record straight.

So when it came to our conference just a few weeks ago, the biggest gathering of LGBT+ people in Europe, there were lots of ground-breaking campaigns and ideas to discuss. We're fighting to open up sport to LGBT+ people, we're talking about how to make education better and stamp out bullying in colleges and universities and how we can ensure Trans and non-binary people are heard. These are issues that LGBT+ people are facing every day - and yet, what does the media pick up on? One line, in one motion that is actually an incredibly detailed constitutional change to the way we elect people to sit on committees.

This motion was not about ‘chucking gay men out of the LGBT+ campaign’ but instead looking at whether we are truly representative of all LGBT+ people. The motion isn’t worded very well I’ll grant you that - but what it is trying to argue is: looking at LGBT+ campaigns and communities across the country there is trend occurring – these spaces are dominated historically by cis (ie, non-trans), gay white men. In order to ensure minority voices are not excluded, specific roles on committees have been created for women, bi people, Black* people, Trans people and so on. Other places were designated ‘open’ (available to anyone), and very often these are taken up by gay men, but crucially were not restricted to them. And that’s the point. Drawing attention to the bigger picture – that everywhere we look, someone is worse off than us and it’s time we did more than ever to support them to challenge, fight and win their liberation, just like those in generations who came before us who helped us win our rights.

The NUS Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans + (LGBT+) campaign exists to represent and extend and defend the rights of LGBT+ students. We are an autonomous campaign, which means that we are led by LGBT+ students in our governance and decision-making processes. NUS itself does not have any committee places solely reserved for men, this is because we recognise that the LGBT+ community is far wider than just men. At a national level we have an open place where anyone can put themselves forward for nomination. The conference voted for local LGBT+ societies to do the same, although ultimately we have no jurisdiction over them. This is not related to the views of an individual or the validity of issues anyone faces but is simply to encourage fairer practice within LGBT+ societies.

All delegates who attend NUS LGBT+ conference are free to submit motions for discussion but they do not necessarily represent the views of NUS.

*Black is an inclusive term used at NUS, to describe people of African, Caribbean, Arab, Asian, South American heritage.

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