NUS Controversy

As per usual, the media (ahem: the Tab), have greatly misrepresented something, and this time it’s something that involves us.

I attended the NUS LGBT+ conference earlier this month, and there seems to be some confusion about one of the motions that was passed.

The motion was concerning safe spaces, and representation for minority groups. It notes that “Misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia are often present in LGBT+ societies. This is unfortunately more likely to occur when the society is dominated by white cis gay men”. It goes on to resolve, among many things, to “encourage LGBT+ Societies that have a gay men’s rep to drop the position”.

This is a highly emotive subject, so I’m going to take it slowly and make sure we’re all on the same page before launching into anything.

Firstly, this motion was referring only to LGBT+ Societies within Students’ Unions in the UK, not human societies (as in communities) as a whole.

Secondly, to explain this, we need to have a look at how LGBT+ Societies and Associations are structured in Student Unions. Usually there is an executive committee which has positions anyone can run for, and also a smaller committee (usually under the welfare officer) which represents minorities within the LGBT+ community, such as ethnic minorities, disabled individuals, intersex people, and trans people. They represent these people to the exec, who represent the LGBT+ community as a whole, including white cis gay men, to the Union. All this motion is saying is that the NUS LGBT+ campaign as a whole does not consider white, cis, gay men to be a minority group within the LGBT+ community. Not that they can’t hold positions on execs, not that they can’t represent or be represented by the LGBT+ community as a whole, but that they do not need a minority representative position because they are not a minority. They will still be represented to the university, and nationally, because LGBT+ communities are minority communities. They are just not a minority within that community, so do not need to hold a minority representation position.

Most importantly, the point is about increasing representation of minority groups within the minority group of an LGBT+ community. The majority of LGBT+ committees across the Western world are made up of cis white gay men, which means the opportunities for representation of minorities is very limited. This is, of course, not the fault of the majority (here: white cis gay men). This is just a logical conclusion to be drawn which is true in any group. For example, in politics, if all the representative positions are held by men, it is difficult to represent women. This is why systems such as affirmative action have been set up in the past, to make sure that the under-represented groups have positions of representation. In the same way, the NUS LGBT+ conference voted in favour of this motion which says not that white cis gay men shouldn’t be involved, but that they simply do not require specific and “reserved” representative positions for gay men: they are already represented more than any other LGBT+ identity. It’s a case of creating rep positions for groups which are underrepresented within the LGBT+ community, which white cis gay men are not.

In a college setting, you have a certain number of representative positions that people run for (like international rep, disabilities rep, LGBT+ rep, etc). In this way and in this context, they are finite, mainly for bureaucratic purposes (my opinion on which doesn’t matter at the moment). The NUS “encourages” the abolishment of representatives of majorities in favour of representatives of minorities. This doesnt mean gay representation in general should be decreased, it just means that they believe specific positions for it are a little superfluous in the context of evening the playing field, if that makes sense.

Gay men are represented: they make up the majority of most LGBT+ group’s execs, most of the media attention, and are the focus of the most charities and most funding. They should be represented by the LGBT+ community, but not through the medium of minority rep positions. Like, do we need a straight people’s rep on college committees? I’m sure most of you would answer something along the lines of “well, no, cos they’re the majority”. To the external world and on wider platforms, gay men need representation as a minority. Within the LGBT+ community, they simply aren’t a minority.

In the wider world, outside of LGBT+ communities, of course white cis gay men face discrimination and oppression because of their sexualities, this isn’t what’s being debated. What’s being debated is that within the minority group, this majority is represented far more than the minorities, which needs to change. It would be like having a white women’s rep in a feminist society, or a men’s rep in parliament, or an able-bodied rep on a sports panel. Those identities already exist in multitudes, and nobody wants to get rid of them, they just want to make sure that other identities are represented as well.

Gay men will still be able to run for any position which is not a reserved position for a minority group. They can run for president, vice president, campaigns, social sec, chair, secretary, whatever, but not representative positions for minority groups.

The violence and oppression gay men face throughout the world is not something which is taken lightly, as is shown by multitudes of other motions passed at the conference. We need to tackle this oppression as a community, but we also need to realise that our LGBT+ communities are made up of a huge number of people with different identities. When you think ‘LGBT’, you think ‘gay’. It’s what my mum assumed when I came out, and it’s what the world assumes when they see the logo on my hoodie. But that isn’t all we are. Some of us are still forgetting the plus, we’re even erasing the bisexual and trans identities which are actually mentioned in the 4-letter acronym! We need to make sure that everyone is represented within our community, especially those who struggle the most and who have the least representation outside of it.

How many of you reading this know what intersex is? How many of us know how many conditions it comprises, or the issues that intersex people face from the moment they’re born?

How many of us know the difference between pansexual, bisexual, and polysexual?

How many of us know the difference between gender and sex, or the difference between gender identity and gender expression, or sexual attraction and romantic attraction or aesthetic attraction?

How many of us know what grey-asexual or demisexual is, or even asexual, really?

How many of us know the issues associated with the intersections between sexuality and race, or disability, or class?

Until all of us can answer all of these questions as well as we can answer “what is gay?”, there will always be a point to increasing minority representation within our communities.

Gay men will be represented by LGBT+ Societies and Associations across the UK, regardless of what the NUS LGBT+ Campaign “encourages”. Let’s make sure we focus on raising awareness and representation of others to the same level, so that we can then raise all of us, no matter our gender or sexuality or romantic orientation, higher together.

If you would like to chat about any of this, feel free to email [email protected]

I will be in Durham over Easter and would be more than happy to meet up and have a chat. This is an emotive issue, and I take the representation of absolutely everyone within the LGBT+ community very seriously, so I will always make the time to listen to your concerns or answer your questions.