VERSA | NUS’ motion against gay men’s reps is out of touch and wrong

Utterly detached from the needs of the students it claims to represent and mired in the intellectually spurious and authoritarian ideology that pervades the far-left, the NUS has called for the abolition of gay men’s reps in LGBTQ societies. It also affirms the NUS’ commitment to banning ideas it dislikes through a no-platform policy.

These decisions, made at the NUS LGBTQ Conference, will do little to assuage worries that the Student Union is anything other than a catwalk for the moral narcissism of Britain’s student radicals.

Amendment 408 resolved to “encourage LGBT+ Societies that have a gay men’s rep to drop the position” as they do not face oppression within LGBT+ communities, arguing that rep positions should be reserved for groups that “disproportionately face oppression within the LGBT+ community”.  It states 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”. Unsurprisingly, the decision has drawn the ire of many within the LGBTQ community, on two counts.

Firstly, it fails to acknowledge the role of LGBTQ societies as sources of representation, advice and inclusion. Harry Samuels, an NUS delegate who attended the conference, expressed his despair, writing that the amendment seems to imply that “LGBTQ societies are solely for the purpose of radical political liberation”, and questioned “how is it defensible that you get rid of someone to turn to for gay guys when they want specific sexual or sexual health advice? Or someone to talk to? Gay men don’t just simply not have these problems”. Second, it seems to ignore the grim reality that many gay men do not grow up in tolerant communities and obscures the fact that homophobia against gay men is still widespread. Samuels noted that it is a “desperately harmful thing to not just do away with a recognisable, contactable figure on a society website who can help with these things, but to imply that these problems are somehow lesser because you are a gay man.”

This rather depressing episode of the Oppression Olympics was followed up by a confused restatement of the NUS’ no-platform policy. The usual frenzied assertions as to how academic debate is inimical to the participation of students in campus life or how permitting the discussion of certain ideas constitutes oppression in itself were accompanied by an exposition of more sinister authoritarianism within the Left. As well as trying to control and regulate what issues can be discussed, they seek to change the very terms in which we discuss them in order to guarantee certain pre-ordained ideological conclusions. Two statements are particularly egregious.

The first is the bizarre and incorrect assertion that “No platforming is not censorship”. This appears to be another case in the radical left’s trend of redefining words to suit its own ideological and rhetorical requirements. Student unions clearly lack the capacity for universal repression of ideas in the way that authoritarian governments do – they lack the means of enforcement and apparatus of control to completely suppress free speech. However, no-platforming undeniably prevents the discussion of certain ideas within student societies through the threat of disruption or the outright banning of certain societies, and regularly attempts to ostracise and morally castigate those who hold ideas that do not conform to the moral pretensions of our student leaders. The former definition represents an absurdly narrow and un-nuanced understanding of what ‘censorship’ is. The latter, despite its rhetorical inconvenience for our comrades on the far-left, is a much more meaningful account of what it is for us to have free speech. Even by NUS standards, this is a particularly intellectually sloppy attempt to absolve them of their guilty intolerance.

The second particularly detestable statement is that no platforming is a decision that student unions should “feel free to make on ideological and welfare-based grounds”. This is a step-up from the already loathsome idea that the subjective feelings of individuals are sufficient to trump the universal rights of many. Asserting that no-platforming can be justified on exclusively ideological grounds is an undisguised attempt to enforce ideological purity and entrench the prevailing ideas of the Left. Even once revered liberation activists such as Germaine Greer or Peter Tatchell have been smashed by the hammer of dogma, as the student Left begins to consume itself in pursuit of ideological dominance and the sweet nectar of moral validation that this provides.

This is yet more evidence that the NUS is hopelessly out of touch with its core purposes and the needs of those it is meant to support, as well as being increasingly dominated by insidiously authoritarian ideology.

Tags: lgbt — no-platforming — NUS — Oxford — radical left