The University of Southampton is still yet to make a decision on the potential renaming of Brunei House in Glen Eyre Halls, more than a month after a motion was brought forward by the LGBT+ Society and backed by SUSU. Update – since this article’s original publication, the Vice-Chancellor’s office has contacted SUSU and the LGBT+ Society to set up a meeting to discuss the review process.
On 12th April, Wessex Scene reported on the Student Union’s decision to back LGBT+ Society member Daniel Harris’s petition to rename Brunei House in light of the Sultan of Brunei making death by stoning the punishment for male same-sex relationships in the small South-East Asian state. Daniel’s motion suggested an alternative – renaming the building in honour of engineer and architect Isambard Kingdom Brunel and thus requiring only one letter to change. Back then, we reported on the University confirming that a review was taking place and that talks between the Students’ Union and the University were ‘ongoing’. 35 days and counting since then as of 17th May, 39 since SUSU publicly backed the petition and more than 2 weeks since students returned after the Easter break, a decision has still not been made on whether to rename Brunei House.
In that time, there has been a seeming reversal in Brunei of the death penalty against gay men from the Sultan of Brunei. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah possesses absolute power in the Kingdom which in 2014 announced its intention to implement Sharia law and ordered a moratorium on the death penalty law on 5th May. LGBT+ Society President Kestral Gaian has told Wessex Scene, however, that this doesn’t change for the society their desire for Brunei House to be renamed:
I am relieved that it seems Brunei are backtracking on their harshest policies, but just because the death penalty may not be used it doesn’t mean the environment is any less hostile for LGBT+ people in Brunei. While this continues to be the case, we will continue to push for the building to be renamed.
Indeed, it should be noted that the Sultan’s move does not abolish the death penalty law, but merely suspends enacting the harshest penalty. Also, in announcing the moratorium, the Sultan defended the new laws as ‘crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the public as well as respecting the privacy of individuals’.
Wessex Scene contacted the LGBT+ Society originally about the petition’s progress last week. On this, Kestral said that they’d been kept in the loop about communications between SUSU and the University, and it seemed that ‘both facilities and HR are very much in agreement with us on the matter’, but that the Vice-Chancellor’s office hadn’t engaged in the emails chain that Kestral had seen since confirming the review on 9th April. Asking for an explanation as to this and why it has taken over a month for a decision to be made on potentially renaming a building by one letter, a University spokesperson said that the interim Vice-Chancellor Mark Spearing had been in contact with SUSU on the matter in late April and was awaiting a reply from SUSU:
Having received representations from the Students’ Union the President and Vice-Chancellor (Interim) has kept senior SUSU representatives updated and is awaiting their reply to his most recent correspondence in late April.
Kestral has updated Wessex Scene that on the day of this article’s original publication, the interim Vice-Chancellor contacted both the Students’ Union and the LGBT+ Society to set up a meeting shortly to discuss the review process. The Vice-Chancellor’s office is concerned to ensure the Brunei student population (of which they have said there are about 60 Bruneian students) are consulted on the renaming, though have placed the onus of organising such consultation on SUSU and the LGBT+ Society.
Responding to a You Make Change submission on 26th April, VP Welfare Isabella Camilleri confirmed she had been ‘lobbying the University Vice-Presidents and Residences’ to try to bring about the change.
The wait continues for a decision to be made, although speaking to Wessex Scene early last week, Kestral was upbeat that one would come soon: ‘I remain hopeful that the University, the Student’s Union, the LGBT+ society, and all students impacted by this issue will have a resolution soon’. In particular, Kestral has added since the article’s original publication that they hope the building will be renamed before the next generation of students move in.