NUS officer: We aren’t trying to ‘chuck out’ gay men from the LGBT movement
National Union of Students LGBT+ Officer Robbie Young responds to criticism of an NUS motion that called for LGBT societies to abolish gay men’s reps, and blamed “cis gay men” for increasing “misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia”.
As an out and proud gay man I have been fighting for equality, representation and rights for people like me – in fact all people – for many years. First at my students’ union in Plymouth, then in the Labour Party as an activist, and now as the LGBT+ Officer for the National Union of Students (NUS).
Whilst there have been difficult times it has always been a privilege to fight for our whole community, just like the last few generations have done with such dignity and pride in often vile circumstances.
The activists before me were not just risking arrest or expose pieces in newspapers – but often their lives.
Every day was a painful reminder that society was not a place for you and it didn’t ‘accept’ our kind.
Fast forward a few years and that indignity became a form of ‘tolerance’ (the ‘what you do in the privacy of your own house’ thing caught on) but step outside the front door and you were met with the same hostility and homophobia.
Fast forward a few more years, the denial of gay people was ‘relaxed’ and yet the physical and mental scars remain to this day. Entire generations were brought up without the education they deserved.
Hundreds of thousands lived in fear every single day. Thousands took their own lives because they just couldn’t face it anymore.
Today things have certainly changed.
The fact that as a gay man I can now get married is a shining example of just how far the idea of ‘tolerance’ has changed and developed.
The fights of the past made that possible and to have even played a very small and minor part in that campaign just a few years ago was certainly a privilege.
But it was the people who gave their lives, who stood up for their rights for years and years and years to this struggle, which we should be most thankful for.
But whilst things have changed, they are certainly not where they should be. For the most marginalised in our society that is a daily reality.
Most recently, and unfortunately not for the first time, I was punched in the face and spat at on whilst getting the night bus home a few weeks’ ago. Just for being gay, just for being on that bus. Just for existing as ‘me’.
So imagine my surprise when I opened a newspaper and loaded up Twitter to find my campaign – the NUS LGBT+ campaign – being called out by our community for saying that gay men no longer face oppression.
I can assure you that being punched on that bus was a reminder that we certainly do. But we also have to look past the headlines and I want to set the record straight.
Week after week there are endless stories criticising the National Union of Students. We seem to be an easy punching bag. Maybe it’s because we make mistakes.
Maybe it’s because we’re often younger activists who are still developing the confidence and the thicker skin that past generations had.
Or maybe it’s because we often go against the grain, are early to identify issues within society that need fixing and more eager and ready to challenge it than other, more establishment, organisations in the UK, and in fact, the world.
So when it came to our conference just a few weeks ago, the biggest gathering of LGBT+ people in Europe, there was lots of ground-breaking campaigns and ideas to discuss.
We’re fighting to open up sport to LGBT people, we’re talking about how to make education better and stamp out bullying in colleges and universities and how we ensure Trans people are heard. These are issues that LGBT+ people are facing every day – and yet what does the media pick up on?
One line, in one motion that is actually an incredibly detailed (and quite boring if I say so myself) constitutional change to the way we elect people to sit on committees.
What this motion was about was not ‘chucking gay men’ out of the LGBT+ campaign but instead looking at whether we are truly representative of all LGBT+ people.
The motion isn’t worded very well I’ll grant you that – but what it is trying to argue is looking at LGBT campaigns and communities across the country there is trend that they have been dominated historically by cis (ie, non-trans), gay white men.
In order to ensure minority voices are not excluded, specific roles on committees have been created for women, bi people, black people, Trans people and so on.
Other places were designated ‘open’ (available to anyone), and very often these were taken up by gay men, but crucially were not restricted to them. That’s about it.
Hardly that controversial and as a gay man, I’m proud to have represented campaigns, for all LGBT+ people, for many years and I know that will continue.
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But what we’re talking about is recognising the vast diversity of our movement and that there are people who are worse off, more marginalised and less supported than others – even within our own community.
I might have been punched in the face for just being gay, but that won’t stop me campaigning and fighting for people more marginalised than me.
For the closeted gay man who feels like they can’t come out for fear of being thrown out of their house, or abused in the street.
Or for the Trans person who is denied the healthcare they need. The refugees and asylum seekers told they have to ‘prove’ they are gay as they flee persecution and the threat of being hanged, shot or stoned to death by vicious dictators and brutal oppressors.
We need to unite to draw attention to the bigger picture – that everywhere we look, someone is worse off than us and it’s time we did more than ever to support them to challenge, fight and win their liberation, just like those in generations who came before us who helped us win our rights.
Robbie Young is the LGBT+ Officer for the National Union of Students and an active LGBT rights campaigner