The National Union of Students LGBT+ Committee has continued to stoke divisions with the LGBT+ community this week by passing a motion that calls on LGBT+ societies to abolish gay men’s representatives if they have them on the grounds that “Gay men do not face oppression as gay men within the LGBT+ community and do not need a reserved place on society committees”.
This is a highly problematic statement that demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the function that LGBT+ societies are supposed to fulfill, and is yet another example of the National Union of Student’s apparent campaign to split the LGBT+ community.
In February the Union’s LGBT representative, Fran Cowling, no-platformed Peter Tatchell – one of the UK’s leading gay-rights activists. She refused to share a stage with him on the grounds that Tatchell’s letter to the Observer in 2015, where he expressed support for freedom of speech and opposed the growing trend of students to ‘no-platform’ people like Germain Greer, was “transphobic”. Tatchell has fought for LGBT rights for most of his life, helped found the group OutRage!, and has even been arrested more than 300 times and stopped the cars of multiple heads of state, including John Major and Tony Blair. Despite all of this, the elected representative for LGBT people in the National Union of Students refused to appear alongside him even though it offered an opportunity to question his stance on the ‘no-platforming’ issue.
Whilst this was not the official policy of NUS as a whole, we now have the body directly attacking an entire demographic of the LGBT community – gay men. The motion passed at this week’s conference “encourage[s]LGBT+ societies that have a gay men’s rep to drop the position” on the grounds that “Gay men do not face oppression in the LGBT+ community”. The motion went on to state “Misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia…is more likely to occur when the society is dominated by white cis gay men”.
In short, in order to tackle discrimination against parts of the LGBT+ community, the NUS has decided to discriminate against part of the LGBT+ community. I am all for the barring of individuals who harm others within LGBT+ societies because these groups are there to provide a safe space for ALL members of the LGBT+ community. This fact seems to be lost on the National Union of Students. Whether they like it or not gay men still face huge levels of homophobia, discrimination, hardship and suffering in Britain and across the world, and LGBT+ societies are there to provide a safe space where all members of the sexual and gender minorities can go to be themselves and to make friends in a safe environment – including gay men, who still face discrimination in the housing sector, are more likely to be homeless, have been suffering an increase in the number of hate crimes (particularly in London) and continue to be banned from donating blood on the grounds of their sexuality. These are just a few of the battles facing gay men outside the LGBT+ community and whilst the UK has legalised gay marriage and has an ever-increasing presence in the media, homosexuality remains illegal in 76 countries – and that’s not including places like Russia which have homophobic laws. Gay men still face battles in society, but now also face a battle to be accepted and represented in the LGBT+ community itself.
Furthermore, the contradictions contained within the motion seem to have been missed by the committee. They specifically state that the issue arises when a society is dominated by ‘white cis gay men’, yet recommend removing representation for all gay men regardless of race. The motion states that having LGBT+ Societies ensures the provision of safe spaces for ‘marginalised groups’ and then proceeds to recommend barring one of those marginalised groups from being represented.
So yes, in Britain gay men stand in a more ‘privileged’ position (for want of a better word) than other members of the LGBT+ community but that is no reason to discriminate against them. We have many battles to overcome for all parts of the community and we are stronger together. The sexuality, race or gender of an individual does not matter, be they gay, asexual, transgender, white, Hispanic or even straight – if they want to help the LGBT+ community in its fight for equality then they deserve to be welcomed. The NUS needs to remember that LGBT+ societies are there to be safe spaces, and promoting internal division within the community is backward and detrimental to the fight for equal rights.
There is so much left to do, the NUS needs to stop encouraging this culture of competition based on “who is more privileged?”, and stand up for the rights of its members, regardless of their identity. The direction that the NUS appears to be taking scares me, and gay men continue to face huge levels of discrimination outside of the university environment, particularly in the world of work where many return to the closet (62% of LGBT graduates according to one study). University is where many find the first real opportunity to be themselves and to meet people who are truly accepting of who they are. The NUS is threatening this freedom and is running the risk of ejecting an entire demographic of the LGBT+ community who still need the space to safely be themselves. I call upon the NUS to think again about its decision, and to ensure that it works towards the benefit of all its members and does not discriminate against a particular group based on the competitive notion of ‘privilege’.