A motion to create a full-time Transgender Officer position was voted down at the NUS National Conference last week, sparking criticism among student LGBT+ campaigners.
Students and LGBT+ rights activists took to Twitter to voice their disappointment at the decision and were clearly deflated with the decision to reject the motion, with one spectator tweeting: ‘Gutted to see [the motion] fall when it’s so vitally needed by TRANS students across the country. It’s clearly unacceptable.’
Speaking to Gair Rhydd, next year’s elected Women’s Officer Rachael Melhuish expressed her disappointment at the failure of the motion, as she explained: ‘The NUS Conference has missed what would have been an amazing opportunity for the representation of trans* students, one of the most marginalised groups within the LGBT+ community.
‘The students who abstained and voted against the motion effectively rejected the autonomy of those trans* students who brought the motion forward. I hope the motion will be brought to conference again next year and will pass.’
The motion fell by less than 80 votes, with 271 votes for, 194 votes against and 79 abstentions. Voting took place by secret ballot after audience members voted to make their decision with discretion.
However, this decision only fuelled further criticism after the motion fell, with critics claiming that the method of voting allowed democratically elected representatives to hide behind their ballot sheet.
Amongst those who took to Twitter to criticise the secret ballot, one activist tweeted: ‘Bigots, ashamed of their bigotry, can now be spared being seen,’ whilst one student described the ballot as ‘a load of rubbish, delegates should surely be held accountable for their votes.’
Delegates were also accused of creating an atmosphere of intimidation, as NUS Wales President Beth Button tweeted: ‘It’s not ok that delegates have chosen to leave the hall for his debate because they’re intimidated and scared to vote publicly’.
However, the failure of the trans* officer motion did not constitute the only drama within the conference. Further controversy within the conference was caused as the event was forced to stop twice after staff threatened to ‘withhold their services’ according to student publication The Linc.
Following NUS regulations, speakers are not permitted to talk about staff on stage. However, Lincoln Students’ Union president Brian Alcorn caused conference proceedings to grind to a halt after criticizing the NUS for taking over a year to find a CEO.
Other events in the conference included the election of NUS Officers for the forthcoming year.
Megan Dunn, last year’s vice-president for higher education, was named as the new NUS President. In a speech, Dunn promised to fight for free higher education and act against the austerity and poverty crisis faced by students.
The new NUS President also urged delegates to be ‘ready to stand up alongside each other’ in order to be heard by the new government after the election.
However, in order to achieve improvement, Dunn warned that the NUS must also face changes, and suggested that greater support be given to both campus unions and national movements.
In what NUS delegates dubbed as a ‘lurch to the left’ with newly elected NUS vice-presidents, motions were also passed to condemn the record of the coalition government and to abolish student debt.
Continuing discussion of the upcoming elections, the key-note speech of the conference was taken by Channel Four presenter Rick Edwards.
Addressing concerns about student apathy, Edwards stated: ‘the idea that young people don’t care is quite frankly offensive’.
Throughout the three-day event, which was held in Liverpool, fringe sessions were held throughout the conference to discuss subjects at the forefront of the student agenda.
The agenda featured subjects such as low public trust in politicians, the need to campaign against student poverty, and concerns regarding the newly introduced Counter-Terrorism and Security Act.
The NUS conference also featured a talk on the national minimum wage for apprentices and a discussion about religious freedom hosted by the Union of Jewish students.