Representing UEA LGBT+ students on a national level

Last weekend six UEA students headed down to Nottingham to attend the annual NUS LGBT conference. It is here that we debate and vote for national policies for the LGBT campaign as well as getting to discuss, with representatives with students unions across the country, what we have been doing and what we want to be doing for the NUS LGBT movement. With two open place reps, two women’s reps, one disabled students, trans students and black students representative UUEAS was one of the biggest delegations there, making UEA LGBT+ students lovely and well represented. To see how your delegation went to represent your voice as a UEA LGBT+ student, each delegate has taken the chance to reflect on their time at the conference.

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Hussam Oweis – Black Students’ Delegate

This year’s conference was very inspiring. Not only for the campaigns and policies that we voted and agreed on putting forward, but also for the energy and enriching experiences of our fellow delegates. Two sentences, during this conference, made me stop and reflect on the meaning we give to words, sentences, and their hidden power. During the feminist workshop, the speaker told us her own story of when at work, a colleague was flirting with her. She is bisexual and was not out at that time. Talking to one of her colleagues, she thought that the best solution to get rid of the attentions of the flirty guy was to simply to lie and say that “she was taken,” meaning that she was in a relationship. Her colleague told her, why don’t you say the truth and say that she is simply not interested and therefore no. This suggestion opened her eyes. She had never thought before about taking ownership of her life and decisions and say no to a guy, instead of saying that she was taken. At that point, she started thinking about why she, as a human being, had to lie and say she belonged to someone else, a man, instead of simply taking ownership of her life and making decisions and stand up. This small example, showed her (and myself) how even “normal” and “neutral” language such as “being taken” instead of “being in relationship” implies strong power relations and hegemonic struggles between the social relation between man and women. The second case of sentence that made me start reflecting about the hidden power relations and forces behind it was “being straight acting”, meaning a gay guy who is not “effeminate” or camp but rather “masculine”. Using the straight acting term, in fact, assumes that masculinity lies in heterosexuality, reaffirming the stereotype of the flaming queen. Masculinity assumes characteristics like “macho” guy, while a guy who likes romantic drama or that doesn’t like football, rugby, and football would lie outside of the masculinity boundary. In this way it neglects the diversity and variety of characteristics within genders, meaning that a guy is himself in his uniqueness and doesn’t need to change what he is just to conform to the stereotype of “masculinity”. Using the “straight acting” terms would simply reinforce the power relations that they imply, and therefore, what we should do to change this implicit homophobic discrimination is not to use these terms and become aware of the power relations that they reinforce. Overall, this conference helped me in not taking idiomatic expressions for granted, but to become more reflexive and aware of what they really mean, their implications, and the hidden power struggles behind them. Since I came back to UEA, I started thinking, talking, and appreciating the world in a different, more aware, way. To change the world and fight homophobia and sexism, maybe we should start talking differently.

Rob Sinclair – Open Place Delegate

‘Pride is political.’ Is a phrase that I was completely unfamiliar with until I went to the NUS LGBT conference. For me Pride is an annual celebration of diversity, or at UEA, a support group that arranges year round socials and welfare events. But following the conference, pride has much more meaning.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the LGBT+ movement has made so much progress that the campaign in modern Britain is irrelevant. Some see pride as just a big social event. But in fact the fight for liberation and equality is far from being over. There is still persecution and ignorance surrounding some members of our community and we are stronger standing in solidarity with persecuted LGBT+ people in Britain and around the world.

One of the best tools we have is citizenship education and breaking down the stereotypes place upon us by media and society. Progress is being made; we’ve gone from a society that denies the existence of LGBT people in popular culture, to a place where gay people were clichés of ‘butch’ or ‘camp’, and then further still to a place where gay and lesbian people are regular characters in soaps. But some of the people in our acronym are still heavily stigmatised and are met with ignorance, especially people who are B* and T*. Bi* people are often touted as ‘greedy’ or ‘unable to make up their minds’ by popular media, there is a need to break down the idea of ‘it’s a phase’ or ‘bi-now-gay-later’ that is frequently used by non-bi people. Trans* people still have fewer rights in marriage, are forgotten in equal opportunities monitoring, and have access problems in healthcare.

I have to admit that despite being an LGBT+ welfare officer for a year, before the conference I still didn’t know all of the terms that people in our community use to define their identity. Bi* and Trans* are umbrella terms for a series of gender, sex and sexuality differences. As someone who identifies as ‘Bi*’ I find that not everyone understands what that means, if someone asks, I really don’t mind spending a few moments describing it to remove assumptions. But imagine being having a visible difference like some trans* people do, and having to explain to every new person you meet why you are conforming to the gender that you were assigned (or a horrific fear the someone will as about your genitalia). The barrage of questions and assumptions must be constant! Many people outside of pride probably haven’t met many LGBT people. Assumptions based on stereotyping is never good, but the constant barrage of asking is no good either, the diversity of people in our community needs to be discussed in an open and accepting way in high school citizenship lessons. Ignorance is not an excuse in the Wikipedia generation. Knowledge is the key to acceptance of people who have minority sexual, romantic and sex identities.

At the conference there were several workshops, one of the most interesting that I attended was the ‘Understanding Diversity’ workshop. It was really simple, we spent the majority of the session defining what words under the LGBT umbrella meant to us. Things like ‘gender fluid’, ‘demi-boy’, ‘gender queer’, ‘queer’, ‘pan-romantic’, ‘questioning’, ‘Agender’, and ‘poly’. But the session started with the ‘pronounaround’. It was a brilliant solution to the frequent problem in a room of queer people; are you a boy or are you a girl? ‘Pronounaround’ is so simple, you take turns round the group introducing yourself by name, your pronoun ‘he/him’ ‘them/they’ or ‘she/her’, then a little something about yourself eg. Favourite desert or where you’re from. Introductions are made, and no offence is caused.

For the most part of the conference we voted on motions and amendments that were submitted by delegates and national committee members. Delegates voted on motions to direct the NUS LGBT officers campaigns for the coming year. The debate was divided into zones chaired by different national committee members.

Education: This zone passed motions to lobby universities to allow trans people to have their title changed on their degree certificates after transitioning. Conference also decided that NUS should work with teachers unions to make it easier for LGBT staff to be out to their colleagues at School. Motion 105 ‘Queering the Sciences’ was the most contentious in the education zone, the ‘search for the ‘gay’ gene’ was discussed. The motion recognised that science is dominated by straight white men, and that it was important to make science more accessible to all.

Strong and active unions: This zone was about improving the provision of unions to their members. It recognised that LGBT+ committee members are volunteers and that they largely lack training and resources. Conference decided NUS LGBT should work closer with volunteers and union officers to provide specific training on how to support all LGBT+ students.

Motion 204 motion recognised that disabled members of the community sometimes don’t have access to all the opportunities that other members do. Conference resolved to consult disabled students about their experiences at university and not just include people with visible disabilities, but also people with learning difficulties (like dyslexia) and people suffering from mental health problems (a surprisingly large number of LGBT people). The data from this is important for provision of better services on campus.

Welfare: Motion 401 recognised that mental health effects such large numbers of LGBT people. Against a back drop of cuts to mental health provision, the conference recognised that there is a mental health crisis in the LGBT+ community. Incidence of self-harm, depression and anxiety amongst LGBT+ people is significantly higher than the population as a whole. As a result the conference resolved that NUS LGBT should provide resources to institutions to share best practice on supporting LGBT+ people with mental health problems, as well as fighting for better mental health funding.

Also in the welfare zone, the conference recognised the need to raise awareness about consensual sex, and better support for survivors of sexual crimes. NUS LGBT campaign will produce resources and work with the liberateyourself website to support victims.

The conference highlighted the important issues of self-care, and the body image, problems frequently seen in gay and bisexual men, not helped by the media and dating apps. NUS LGBT will produce videos and information to support those with body image issues.

Rules revision: The most emotionally moving debate of the whole weekend was the motion to introduce a full-time trans* officer. Passions were high from both sides of the debate. The motion eventually fell on the basis that there was a lack of funding for liberation within NUS; the open officer and part-time trans officer already fulfil much of the role, and the NUS constitution wouldn’t allow more than two people to sit on the national NUS committee.

Caucus: As a disabled, bi person, I attended two caucuses. These were break out events to discuss issues that related to specific groups.

In bi* caucus we talked about how bi* people are perceived by media, society and social media. The notion that all Bi* people are just questioning or curious was debated briefly. Bi-erasure comes from the perception of gay, lesbian and straight people regard bi-sexuality and bi-romance as a temporary thing, or ‘hipster’ ‘phase’. The caucus felt some marginalisation by others and that they were not ‘gay enough’. Some bi people thought that the LGBT movement forgets Bi* people.

The disabled caucus discussed ableism, and the importance of lobbying for increased accessibility in buildings on campus and beyond. The lack of blind and deaf people was noted. If the campaign is to truly be representative, people should be encouraged by their unions to seek access bursaries so that their views are represented.

Summary This event was the perfect way to end my time as an LGBT+ Welfare officer. The things I learnt during this year have fed into my discussions with delegates from other universities, sharing best practice, and talking about shared experiences of working with members of the LGBT community. I’ve passed on my idea of ‘Lounge’ (a relaxed informal peer support social that I started in September) to some friends that I met through networking at the conference, and they are going to try it at their unions.

The whole conference had such an amazing feel about it. It was a safe space where you can be completely yourself and express your opinions and experiences without prejudice. I’ve never cried so much in a lecture theatre, I was so moved by other people’s stories and experiences. I’ve already started to share my ideas from the conference experience with the UEAPride committee for the coming year, and have some great ideas for making pride even more inclusive and active. The campaign must be political; we need to make our voices heard by our university and by the wider community and stand up against discrimination, bullying, and labelling. Although I’m taking a year out of University after this year, I’ve already decided that I need to be involved in Pride activism outside of UEA, and continue fighting for equality and looking out for the welfare of my community.

The NUS LGBT conference was the platform for the launch of a new report about LGBT+ experiences at uni and can be viewed here:
http://www.nus.org.uk/global/lgbt-research.pdf

Dan Wrigglesworth – LGBT+ Officer

Going to NUS LGBT Conference this year was amazing. The weekend is wonderful to be apart of and from it you gain so much. The personal stories that we heard were both emotional and so inspiring and it just builds on the passion for improving the lives for LGBT+ students on our campus better.

The most contentious issue at the conference was motion 501, the result of this motion would be granted the NUS LGBT movement with a full-time trans* officer. The debate was back and forth and it was one of the most divisive debates I’ve seen, the splits were evident in the room between the trans* community weren’t even coherent on the issue. The vote required a two-thirds majority and unfortunately it didn’t get that as it had just over 50%. This however doesn’t dent the upcoming trans* campaigns as the newly elected open place officer, Robbie Young, has pledged to create the first ever NUS Trans* students conference to help bring the campaign together for trans* students.

The first motion at conference was 310, after a procedural motion conference decided to discuss a motion on NUS LGBT affiliating to action for trans* health. The affiliation won’t cost anything to NUS but the awareness raised and the work done along side action for trans* health will really help trans* students nationally and also locally when local chapters are set up.

The motion I was so proud to vote in favour of was motion 204, access goes further than finance. This motion along with a very heartfelt and emotional speech was key to making sure all conferences and campaigns are disabled member friendly so they also have an equal representation. This motion passed overwhelmingly and i really look forward to see its application so that more members can go to conferences and campaign days as they are an amazing experience.

As well as taking part in motions debates there were other sections of the conference which were really enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed the hustings for LGBT officers, listening to the candidates talk about their experience and what they want to do was really eye-opening and really gave them a chance to show their passion. One of the candidates even brought me to tears with his speech it was so inspiring and I was so please when they won.

As an identifying disabled person, I went to the disabled caucus to elect the committee rep for NUS LGBT, I have never seen an election where I could have easily chosen 5 different people as my first choice and it is a credit to the people running as they all had different backgrounds but had fantastic ideas for the movement and in the end my second preference won but they were incredible and I know that they will have a fantastic Input in the upcoming year.

I will happily answer any questions about how I voted on motions I wanted to keep this as short as possible but if you have any questions please get in touch. What I really think is important though is just to finish off by saying conference is amazing. The people you meet are wonderful and you hear so many interesting and inspiring stories. Before conference I didn’t really know some of our own delegates that well and I’m so glad I got to go to conference with them because without it our paths may have never crossed and I loved every second of it. So I encourage everyone to get involved and run to go to conference next year.

 Hannah Jerming-Havill – Women’s Delegate

 Setting off for my first NUS Conference on Thursday afternoon, I was certainly feeling slightly nervous and unsure of what to expect. However, any apprehensions I harboured were soon replaced with the sense of community, solidarity and excitement that maintained with me throughout the weekend. It was repeatedly emphasised that the LGBT Conference must be a “safe space” for all participating delegates, a condition that was ensured communally and whole-heartedly. Whether by accessibility and inclusion during motion debates or by running identity-specific caucuses and fringes, the attitude of complete openness may be the quality of Conference that has remained with me a week later; and an attitude that I hope will be extended to our UEA LGBT society.

Evidently Conference was not merely a social gathering for fun and games; a plethora of motions, vital, sometimes radical and often urgent in their simplicity were debated and voted for/against to be carried into the 2014/15 LBGT Campaign. There are a few motions I would like to highlight here.

Firstly, a motion that reiterates that we gather strength as a movement by bearing our past in mind, but also reminding us to not let our perspectives be skewed: ‘Motion 307: End the Cis washing of the Stonewall Riots!’ The 1969 Stonewall riots were monumental in the Gay Liberation movement, however the vital involvement and presence of trans activists is often overlooked. Key icons, such as Sylvia Rivera may be recognised, yet it is rarely appreciated that she was a trans woman from an ethnic minority background, for which her courage should be doubly applauded. By voting for and passing the motion, Conference resolved to ‘condemn the promotion of historical narratives that minimise or erase the involvement of trans people in the Stonewall Riots and the wider early Gay Liberation movement as transphobic hate speech.’

To further combat the fact that ‘trans* people are oppressed in contemporary society through numerous mechanisms, including but not limited to; lack of healthcare, policing of gender, fewer options for employment or education, street harassment, and micro-aggressions’ another motion of inclusiveness and solidarity was passed: ‘Motion 203: Be careful with each other, so we can dangerous together’. This motion is important because it highlights and recognises the great social inequalities prevalent between trans and cis gender people, as well as promotes cooperation and ‘the spirit of mutual aid and solidarity’ in order to achieve equality, together. Important for all student to remember is that we need to ‘repsect trans* students’ right not to have to be educators all the time,’ regarding their identities, bodies or to appease curiosity.

One of the most heated and controversial motions debated was ‘Motion 501: Creation of a Full-Time Trans Officer Position’, which not only divided Conference as a whole, but also clearly divided the trans community, members of which spoke passionately both for and against the motion. Had the motion needed a mere 50%+ majority it is highly likely that it would have passed, though even then votes would probably have had to been individually counted to determine the result. However, as this motion was part of the ‘Rules Revision’ section of motions, affecting the constitution of the NUS LGBT Campaign, it needed a 2/3 majority to pass, which it did not achieve. Hence, the appointment of a full-time trans officer will not occur. Although it is noteworthy that the LGBT Campaign 2014/15 will be the first to have the privilege of being run by 2 full-time officers (one women’s officer and one open place officer).

In contrast, a motion that passed with 100% voting for and no abstentions was ‘Motion 202: Black LGBT sub-committee – creating safer autonomous space’, which emphasises that black (defined within NUS documents as a denominator for all ethnic minorities) ‘LGBT students face an intersection of oppression.’ By passing the motion, Conference resolved to create the sub-committee, with one place reserved for a black LGBT women’s officer, one open place elected at the NUS LGBT Conference and one open place to be elected at the NUS Black Students Conference.

Another vital motion to be passed, in my opinion, was ‘Motion 302: LGBT Asylum in the UK’, which draws our perspectives beyond borders and recognises the global discrimination, abuse and persecution of LGBT people. Furthermore, the motion addresses the, often, preposterous demands made of LGBT asylum seekers to “prove” their sexuality and/or gender identity. Passing the motion, Conference resolves amongst other aspects to raise public awareness of global LGBT oppression, to lobby the UK Border Agency and the Home Office for humane and accessible asylum processes for LGBT asylum seekers and to ‘condemn the violence against LGBT people carried out by border staff.’ The motion also notes that ‘British government continues to deport LGBT asylum seekers to Uganda despite condemning their Anti-gay law,’ establishment hypocrisy that should be protested and lobbied against.

Two motions that felt particularly poignant for me, as the UEA women’s rep at conference and on a personal level, were ‘Motion 403: We Demand Consent’ and ‘Motion 104: Access to Education’, specifically ‘Ammendment 104a: Zero Tolerance to LGBTphobia’.

I believe firmly that all oppression is connected. Moreover, I believe that much of the inequalities and divides in society have their roots in the strict gender policing insisted upon in society as we live today. The first point of ‘We Demand Consent’ accurately pinpoints that ‘misogyny, homophobia and transphobia share a common root as the result of structurally and socially entrenched gender roles. Lad culture is a gendered issue, part of which is the normalisation of sexual violence.’ The motion as submitted by Finn McGoldrick, the leaving women’s place officer for the NUS LGBT Campaign, along with the suggested amendments recognises that tackling Lad culture is vital both for the LGBT movement as well as campaigns rooted in feminism, tackling the wider issues of gender inequalities. Essentially, this motion suggests an intersectional campaign, in collaboration with the NUS Women’s Campaign; an intersectional collaboration that I am very excited to follow the progress of and that I hope will be echoed here at UEA.

The launch of a ‘Zero Tolerance to LGBTphobia’ campaign that addresses the sickening infringement that hate-crimes have on what should be a liberating, educational space at university – for many a desired safe-haven – calls for students and institutions alike to actively combat LGBTphobic discrimination, harassment and abuse. This is, in my opinion, one of the most crucial motions we passed at Conference this year and I hope that next years LGBT committee will firmly establish the campaign here at UEA. The campaign recognises that LGBT students are more vulnerable to hate-crimes, which more recent studies have proven. However, what is most striking is that very few victims dare to, or are helped practically and encouraged to, report crimes to authorities, such as the police. Nationally, only 16% of students who had experienced physical assault based on their sexuality or gender reported it to the police.[1] A study conducted here at UEA regarding students during the 2011/12 academic year showed that 0% of students reported LGBTphobic crimes to the police. Writing as someone who has been actively discouraged to report hate-crime to the police, I guarantee that this is an issue relevant to UEA, relevant to our community and must be tackled with great immediacy – I hope that the Zero Tolerance to LGBTphobia campaign is at the forefront of our society’s actions next year and beyond.

Outside the conference floor, a multitude of “fringes” were held to create a space for sub-communities to meet, discuss challenges and share campaign ideas specific to their community. I attended the Fem(me) Fringe and the Performance Poetry Fringe. It was exciting to hear that UEA’s FemSoc is nationally renowned as one of the biggest university feminist societies. However, it was inspiring to hear the stories of single individuals that had managed to start-up and organise feminist societies and run campaigns at their universities, despite fewer numbers. Many mentioned organising marches and Reclaim the Night events and the discussion of male inclusion in feminist campaigns often adopted a more radical slant, in an empowering sense. Many agreed that the dismissal of their community as “lipstick lesbians” – subject to prejudices such as that femmes lack radicalism and the capacity to mobilise as a fierce movement – is far too common and must be fought against.

The Performance Poetry Fringe was a definite highlight of the weekend. Whilst most of conference gathered after the formal dinner and awards ceremony to watch Eurovision on the big screen, a few of us slipped off to embrace the idea of social change through cultural revolution. Many joined to show support and enjoy the poetic oscillations between intimate and intense, and a handful of us were fortunate enough to read our work in a truly respectful and encouraging space.

There were also a few more official meetings, caucuses, for delegates that self-defined in a common way, of which I participated in the Women’s Caucus and the Lesbian Caucus. At the Lesbian Caucus there was a great emphasis on lesbian solidarity, something the community felt was often lacking. We tend to be fairly good at getting involved and active in campaigns and issues beyond ourselves, yet sometimes we forget to look out for our sisters; a reminder of solidarity is always useful. The Women’s Caucus was dedicated to hearing candidate’s speeches and electing the new women’s place full-time officer. Both candidates, Gabbi and Fran, were incredibly strong and the election was extremely close. With only 2 votes separating the candidates, Fran was elected, which I am pleased to say I supported. Fran is one of the key minds behind the Zero Tolerance to LGBTphobia campaign, and she also emphasised intersectionality of feminism and other oppression, the importance of support networks, BME-liberation and the inclusion of trans women in the feminist movement. Certainly, one of the most resounding round of applauds was when Fran roared down the microphone: ‘there is no space for transphobia in the LGBT movement, there is no space for transphobia in feminism.’

Solidarity, diversity, inclusion and strength through unity – this is the mantra that reverberates in my mind after the weekend. The LGBT movement is political and our campaigns remain in the sphere of liberation. Plenty of progress is still to be made, necessary progress, but it will best be achieved when we remember that the LGBT movement is one: in motion persist, unified.

[1]‘Education Beyond the Straight and Narrow’, http://www.nus.org.uk/Global/lgbt-research.pdf, p. 35.

If you have any questions about the conference, email union.lgbt@uea.ac.uk.

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