#NUSLGBT13: going through the motions! (part two)

Well, NUS LGBT Conference begins this morning – here’s part two of my analysis and discussion of this year’s motions, coming to you from a cross-country train! (For part one, click here.)

[Added after writing the rest of the entry: I was initially planning only to comment on motions which were specifically relevant to trans issues, feminism, or my work with the Women’s Campaign (which includes accessibility). As it turned out, I have a lot of opinions, and I note that I’ve commented on the majority of the motions. This is partly because there’s an amazingly high number of policies relating to feminist and trans concerns this year – applause for all the CMs who have submitted these, you’re awesome! – but also because there are some motions about which I felt quite strongly despite them being outside my official remit. I’d like to make it very clear that I don’t mean to dismiss motions on which I haven’t commented.

I’d also like to say one more thing: putting things into policy is one thing – making sure these things happen is another. NUS Liberation campaigns have limited resources: staff, paid elected sabbatical officers, and a committee of volunteers. Passing policy is the first step towards action, but it’s by no means the last. So – elect officers and a committee you think has the requisite skill, energy, and interest to work on the issues that matter you to most. Policy means nothing if there aren’t people there to carry it out. And please, don’t be afraid of contacting officers or committee members directly to ask us to make sure your policies are being followed up on: you elect us, you get to hold us accountable. We’re not superhuman – I know that illness and my Masters degree meant that I wasn’t able to do as much as I’d liked to have done in my most recent term on Women’s Committee – but (hopefully!) we stand for election because we want to work for you, and for the movement.]

Strong and Active Unions Zone

401 – ‘a trans+ inclusive feminism’. Not much to say about this one aside from YES – it’s a pretty simple statement of intent (and commitment to action) about opposing trans-exclusive forms of feminism, and working with the Women’s Campaign on this. I didn’t write it, but I feel like I could have. 😉

402 – ‘a more representative, feminist movement’ – basically, acknowledging that LGBT activism is frequently dominated by gay men, and committing to ensure NUS LGBT works on issues important to LGBT students other than this group. Ideally the wording would make clearer either that it’s referring to LGBT activism as dominated by cis gay men, or note that ‘gay men’ and ‘trans* people’ are not mutually-exclusive categories – but one of the things about how conference works is that it’s not possible to edit the text of the motions (except to correct obvious typographical/copying errors), just to remove sections of it. I’d rather keep this motion than throw it out due to wording issues, so I advise voting YES.

403 and 403a – creating a toolkit to support students who face opposition from their union re: attending LGBT Conference, and (403a) making conference more accessible to first-time delegates by creating info-packs and a buddy system with more experienced delegates. I think both of these are fabulous – improving accessibility is really important, and conference can definitely be intimidating for first-time delegates, so please vote YES on this!

404 and 404a – bringing back the successful LGBT Activist Training Days, and (404a) running them in conjunction with the other NUS Liberation Campaigns. I’m going to offer a YES here – committee training last year was done with all four Liberation campaigns together, and it was a wonderful and eye-opening experience. Intersectionality should be the cornerstone of our movement, and this is one way of helping people to be more than single-issue campaigners. I’ve heard arguments to the effect that ‘activist training days’ are problematic in and of themselves, because activism should be organic and from the grass-roots: personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing skills and techniques for more effective campaigning. The activist training days I’ve attended haven’t been particularly top-down or hierarchical – despite being facilitated by members of NUS staff or committees, they’ve usually ended up feeling more like skillshares than classes. I’d prefer if this motion made clear that NUS LGBT should be footing the bill for running intersectional training days – if they’re being run for members of all the campaigns, they should be funded by all of them in conjunction – but I hope this will be obvious enough to next year’s full-time officers that it doesn’t need expressly stating.

406 – a ‘Liberation league’: collating resources on how well various universities, colleges, and SUs deal with issues relevant to the four NUS Liberation campaigns (that’s Black, Disabled, LGBT, and Women). It’s a tricky undertaking and I feel like it’s quite an ambitious project that would either need a very dedicated committee or some commissioned work from staff or external researches – perhaps a simple way to begin running it would be using a wiki-style format, where students and former students can share information on their unions? I also think that motions on this should be submitted to the other three liberation campaigns. But I’m flagging up this motion because of some context which I think will be useful: a year or two ago, we saw the launch of the ‘Gay By Degree’ resource set up by Stonewall and aimed at helping prospective university students choose universities with good ‘LGB’ policies. It was crammed with inaccuracies, poor analysis, and (of course) total erasure of trans issues. It would be brilliant to begin work on an alternative resource, and so I’d offer an optimistic YES to this motion.

Motion 408 (and amendments) – trans representation in the student movement. Basically: I think this is good, would vote YES, and wish ‘around 30% of trans teens (16-19) commit suicide’ was provided with a citation.

409 and 410 are interesting ones – both relate to the (lack of) trans policy held by BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport). 409 simply asks for BUCS to make their trans policy (if it exists) clear and publicly-accessible; 410 is a longer and rigorously-cited call for BUCS to adopt an evidence-based policy on trans people, which I love so much that I reproduce it in full below:

Motion 410: Keep Wednesday Afternoons Free (from Cissexism)!

 Conference Believes
1.  Currently, British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) defers to national and international sporting bodies for its rules on trans student participation [1]
2.  These rules include but are not limited to requirements of: legal gender recognition, endocrinological intervention, and urological or reproductive surgery.
3.  Enforcement of many of these rules, including those operated by the International Olympic Committee, is unlawful within the UK
4.  Any CM or Athletic Union disclosing a student’s trans status to BUCS without their permission, for the enforcement of these rules or any other purpose, is acting unlawfully
Conference Further Believes
1.  Any coerced or forced medical treatment of trans people is an attack on our bodily autonomy
2. Requiring surgery for recognition of gender is classified by the UN Special Rapporteur as an act of torture [2]
3.  Any post-surgical time limit amounts to a de facto ban on the majority of trans students competing at all
4.  Any restriction on BUCS competition restricts participation in non-BUCS competition, as it requires trans athletes to choose between lying and outing themselves if invited to BUCS events.
Conference Resolves
1.  To demand that every male BUCS competition is immediately and unconditionally opened up to all otherwise eligible students who do not define as female
2.  To demand that BUCS immediately suspends all participation rules requiring legal or medical intervention
3.  To support BUCS in adopting an evidence based policy on trans participation as required by the Equality Act 2010
4.  To support any student who defies BUCS’ eligibility rules purely as a result of their trans status
5.  To encourage all CMs and their Athletic Unions to adopt a self-definition model for participation in gendered sports
6.  That all of the above must be carried out with active consideration of students whose identity does not fall into the male-female binary

 [1] http://c1593.r93.cf3.rackcdn.com/BUCS_Transgender_Policy.pdf
[2] http://www.tgeu.org/node/389

I’m proud to say I fed back on the above motion before it was submitted; I think 410 is great and you should vote YES on it. I think it also renders 409 ultimately toothless, so *shrug* on 409. I have mixed feelings on 410a: I’m generally not a fan of motions being written in a conversational-polemical style; I think the basic principle (asking BUCS to adopt a code of practice that actively challenges ablism, racism, sexism, and LGBT-phobia) is sound; I am unsure why it is necessary that NUS LGBT focus on a specific ‘PR guru’ (Max Clifford) rather than the general media culture of homophobia within sport, and am very uncomfortable with the idea of inviting him to a committee meeting (less so with the idea of inviting him to an educational event ‘to debate why hiding your sexual orientation is a dilution of sporting careers/earnings/brand’ – but surely the campaign’s usual stance is one of ‘our rights are not up for debate’ and anger whenever SUs hold debates on e.g. the morality of gay marriage, so where does hosting a debate fit into this?). This might be one to take parts on; I’d rather leave that to someone with a more in-depth knowledge of the specifics discussed in this motion.

Welfare Zone

501 – campaigning for better funding/access to mental health services. I flag this one up because (unlike e.g. motions on anti-racist campaigning) I think that there is more likely to be a response of ‘this isn’t an issue for the LGBT Campaign’. So here are some statistics explaining exactly why mental health is a crucial issue for the LGBT community. Lesbian and gay people have disproportionately high levels of substance abuse (Mind); Bisexual people have disproportionately high levels of depression and anxiety (Anthony Jorm, British Journal of Psychiatry, 2002); all report higher levels of bullying and poor mental health than heterosexuals. 62% of trans people have alcohol abuse/dependency problems; 88% have experienced depression and 70% anxiety; 53% have self-harmed and 84% have contemplated suicide (Scottish Transgender Alliance and Sheffield Hallam University, Trans Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing Study, 2012). This is absolutely an issue for LGBT students: please don’t vote down this motion because you think it belongs with the Disabled Students’ Campaign instead, but vote a resounding YES on 501!

502 – campaigning, research and resources on domestic violence and sexual abuse in the LGBT community. This is an amazing motion – loads of information and statistics on incidence on violence and abuse within the community (although I wish all the stats were cited!). I’m pointing out this motion because it illustrates exactly why we absolutely can’t have policy stating (without qualification) that LGBT parents/families are always ‘excellent’ (as proposed in motion 314): domestic violence does happen with same-sex couples, and to have anything in policy denying this is to whitewash and tacitly allow this sort of abuse. So, a great big YES to this motion, and I will personally buy the person who wrote this motion a drink of their choice.

503 – #transdocfail and campaigning for better NHS trans services. Fab motion, with an amendment 503a that I’m a little confused by – not sure why, but it reproduces the text of motion 305. So, my opinions on this as stated last night – in favour, with parts to remove the section stating we should stage demonstrations outside GIC who don’t treat non-binary gender identities. After I wrote yesterday’s entry, the proposer of the motion got in touch asking if I’d be happy for that section to be referred to Trans Caucus instead, so it can be debated only by the people affected by it: I think that’s fair enough, and so offer my opinion here as YES to 503 and 503a, with a procedural motion to refer Conference Resolves 2 to Trans Caucus. [Edited to add: the proposer of 503a confirms that it is there due to a compositing error, and they will be asking conference to vote down the amendment.]

504 – working with LGBT and faith groups. I’m not religious so not directly affected by this, but the resolutions are fantastic:

1.  To condemn anti-religious sentiments found within LGBT communities and the LGBT rights movement.
2.  The NUS LGBT Campaign will properly consult with LGBT students of faith or from religious communities as to how the campaign can best support them.
3.  The NUS LGBT Campaign will provide student activists with arguments for expressing solidarity with LGBT people of faith who are experiencing prejudice and discrimination.
4.  For NUS LGBT to recognise the importance of faith to some LGBT students and work with faith groups to promote LGBT visibility within a wide range of faith groups
5.  To commend and promote religious organisations supportive of their LGBT members.
6.  That all of our work on LGBT and faith will be conducted reflectively and critically to create a safe environment for survivors of faith-based abuse
7.  That all of our work on LGBT and faith will elevate the voices of survivors of faith-based abuse who have both affirmed and renounced their faith

This is the sort of nuanced, compassionate policy we need on the intersection of LGBT and faith – please vote YES on this. YetAnotherLefty has written on this in more detail here.

505 and 506 are on HIV and hate crime respectively – hopefully they’re both an obvious YES.

507 – support and visibility for polyamorous LGBT students. The semantic debate about whether poly people count as ‘queer’ is (in my opinion) much less useful than simply acknowledging that a) there are a number of LGBT students who are polyamorous and b) polyamoury is a misunderstood and marginalised form of relationship/sexuality. So, YES on this motion. Amendment 507a (titled “One – Marriage is inherently a patriarchal institution, Two – We don’t need the State to dictate to us what a ‘family’ or a ‘relationship’ is, and Three – Just Stop Pandering!”) has a very familiar voice… So – I don’t disagree with it, or with the broad sentiment of it. Two of the resolutions are great:

1.  Work across liberation with the women’s, black and disabled campaigns to produce a joint statement aboutreproductive rights and support for non-patriarchal relationship constructs.
2.  Work with support groups, including for polyamorous couples, to support people who have caring responsibilities and a loving or sexual relationship with their partner(s)

I have reservations about most of the rest of the amendment, though: as previously stated, I prefer policy that actually sounds like policy, and am uncomfortable with the idea of official campaign policy including statements about other people’s relationships being ‘exciting’ or ‘heart-warming’ (much as I may share these sentiments!)

4.  It is exciting to think that a triad or quad relationship could involve a scene-queeny bisexual man, two bull-dog lesbians and a bisexual transgender-queer woman.
5.  It is even more heart-warming to imagine the proliferation of these relationships all over the world, and have a truly free and liberated people, free from the dark hawk of state-funded and religio-economic classism and patriarchy. 

And we also have, once again:

6.  LGBT people make good parents and loving family units and this should be celebrated and promoted.

… see above for my objections. I’m also a little uncertain about the unqualified valorisation of single motherhood (for similar reasons), but on the whole would be uncomfortable asking to remove the statement ‘A single mother is an absolutely valid and valuable family unit – despite the hate campaign of the Daily Male/Mail’, as I do think the campaign should be affirming non-normative relationship/family structures. So, YES to 507a (with parts to remove the above-flagged).

508 – improve gender identity clinics. Simple position statement and mandate to lobby funding, staffing, and number of GICs in the UK – YES to this.

509 – to call for the removal of ‘transvestic fetishist disorder’ from the next DSM. Well-cited and absolutely sensible: there is no need whatsoever to pathologise transvestism, so that’s another YES.


510 – lobby the General Medical Council to add LGB and trans-specific education targets as a mandatory part of the education of junior doctors. Sensible and (I hope) an obvious YES.

… and we’re done!

Because I figure this will also be very useful, here are the results of the priority ballot, which determines the order in which all this will be debated and the time allocated for each Zone (as posted by Steering the NUS LGBT Facebook group):


1.    Welfare
2.    F&HE
3.    Strong & Active
4.    Soc/Cit

Welfare (70 mins)

1.    Step up on Mental Health
2.    Domestic and Sexual Violence in the LGBT Community
3.    Our healthcare, now!
4.    LGBT and Religion
5.    A refreshed HIV/AIDS campaign
6.    We HATE Crime
7.    Support and visibility for LGBT and Polyamorous Students.
8.    Improve Gender Clinics
9.    Stop with your pathologisation of our community!
10.  Lobbying of the General Medical Council (GMC)

Education (45 mins)

1.    The anti-bullying & tolerance motion
2.    LGBT Access to Education
3.    Free education is a right – Bring Back EMA!
4.    Gender Neutral Titles
5.    Protecting LGBT Students studying abroad

Strong & Active (90 mins)

1.    A More representative, feminist movement
2.    The conference attendee toolkit
3.    NUS LGBT Activist Training Days
4.    Challenging racism & fascism on our campuses and in our communities
5.    A Liberation League: empowering prospective LGBT students, empowering activists and unions.
6.    Don’t let the local campaign die – Support the right to LGBT(+)
7.    Trans Representation in the Student Movement
8.    Clearer Trans Policy in BUCS
9.    Keep Wednesday Afternoons Free (from Cissexism)!
10. Destroy International Homophobia and Transphobia
11. Say NO to 0870!

Society & Citizenship (105 mins)

1.    Recognising non-binary gender identities
2.    LGBT Young People in Care
3.    Lucy Meadows
4.    Inclusion of Non-Binary Trans* People within the NHS
5.    Smash the Gender Recognition Act
6.    Stronger Community Campaigns
7.    Celebrating Pink Parents and Pink Families
8.    Fund Education Not War – Scrap Trident, Scrap Fees
9.    Self Definition is the Only Definition
10. Reclaiming Reclaim the Night
11. Support the small prides movement
12. Tackling Transmisogyny: in our movement and the media
13. The 10 Billion Person Planet

Rules Revision (70 mins)

1.    A + For Inclusion!
2.    Affordable cost of conference
3.    Disabled delegates at LGBT Conference
4.    Increased Representation for Black Women
5.    NUS LGBT definition of ‘woman
6.    Disabled students, mental health
7.    Create a Men’s Caucus
8.    Membership of Trans Caucus
9.    Bi Caucus definition

Stay tuned for another blog entry discussing conference more generally: in the meantime, I hope this has been a useful jumping-off point for new delegates, and at least interesting or thought-provoking for everyone else.


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