NUS LGBT Conference Report

I was lucky enough to be sent to the NUS LGBT conference this year. The NUS LGBT conference is the decision making body of the NUS LGBT campaign, and has policy making, workshops, parties and whole lot of bitching, factional in-fighting, backstabbing and more. Just what you expect when you put 300 political gays in the same room as each-other, really.

The first zone of discussion we got to was policy on Welfare and Student Rights, in which I had a few motions. We first reaffirmed our position as an anti-fascist campaign, and re-affiliated to Unite Against Fascism. Some misinformed person spoke against affiliation, saying that UAF are too confrontational and violent, whereas in reality they are not confrontational enough; often organising counter-protests far away from fascist mobilisations and discouraging antifascists from actively breaking up fascist demos.

We then supported a motion to fight public spending cuts and affiliate to the Right to Work campaign. Next came a motion that resolved to fight anti-religious sentiments within the LGBT community. I spontaneously decided the speak against this motion. I feel that any progressive campaign must take a stance on materialism, and that a political criticism of religion is necessary within the movement. Unfortunately I didn’t really have time to get my thoughts in order before making the speech and it came across as anti-religious.

We then voted on campaigning against cuts to sexual health services, to support LGBT workers, and for more work on trans issues with Further Education colleges.

Next was the Liberate Prisons Now! motion which argued to support LGBT prisoners and to adopt a position of wanting prison reform. I submitted an amendment to support the work of the Bent Bars project, which was successful. I then took parts on some of the main motion which were poorly written and could be taken as something entirely different to what the main submitter had intended. We voted on the parts, and they remained, with one vote in it. There were other parts discussed, but I think the whole motion made it into policy, if I’m not mistaken. For more info on LGBT prisoners,  see my previous note.

The next motion to be discussed on the order paper was my motion to affiliate to Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), of which I am the Education Officer, to run education sessions on drug use in the LGBT community and to write to the Home Office calling for an evidence based drug policy and an impact assessment that the current drug policy has on LGBT people. The main submitter of the Prisons motion put in a procedural motion to have this motion moved to the bottom of the agenda (where it may not be discussed) which I took to be a petty retaliation to my taking parts on her motion, and perhaps a cynical attempt to make people vote against the motion. Fortunately, the Daf Adley, one of the NUS LGBT officers, spoke against the procedural motion and it was not adopted. Lev gave a good speech in favour of the motion, and Wes Streeting, the president of the NUS gave a speech against, in which he made it clear to the entire of conference that he had no idea what SSDP was. I took the final speech on the motion and it passed with a good majority. If you want to find out more about SSDP, please contact education[at]ssdp.org.uk

We then passed fabulous policy on supporting Queer Homeless Youth, policy against service restrictions to students who owe their Universities money, to support LGBT carers, and tackling homophobia in schools.

The next zone we discussed was Education where the most controversial motion was on Free Education. The NUS President Elect, Aaron Porter, spoke against the motion, demonstrating the NUS leaderships usual tendency to capitulate to government in return for a career in parliament. Fortunately, we passed the Free Education motion with a good majority. We also passed motions defending EMA, condemning education cuts, and pushing for better equality and diversity in the FE curriculum.

We then discussed was the Society and Citizenship section. Here were reaffirmed our stance against the commercialisation of Pride and that pride should be political, as well as showing solidarity with Pride’s in the Baltic countries which are often banned, broken up or attacked by fascists. We supported a motion to continue to support LGBT asylum seekers and the Love Without Borders campaign. We then discussed a fantastic No Borders motion to campaign for an end to the border regime and to affiliate to the no borders network. It passed… making me very happy.

Next came up two amendments, which I think should be discussed here together. One was to support LGBT liberation in Palestine and condemn the illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the other was to support LGBT liberation in Iran and to condemn any future occupation or invasion by anglo-american powers. The Palestine one came first, and people argued that we should not take a stance on the occupation because it is an “international issue” or irrelevant to LGBT issues, and the all the parts referring to condemning the occupation or campaigning for an end to the arms trade to Israel were removed. The Iran motion, which was equally international, and possibly less relevant than the Palestine amendment (it was condemning a future occupation that may not happen, whilst the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is very real) was passed without any parts being taken on it. This is ridiculous and can only represent racism against the Palestinian people on conference floor by those who voted to remove those parts.

We then discussed a motion to campaign against military presence on our campuses, against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to scrap Trident and to instead funnel that huge pot of money to LGBT healthcare. Someone made the speech against saying that the military does useful stuff on campuses. It is my personal views that the members of the military are complicit in murder, and they should get the fuck off our campuses. There were a lot of parts taken on the motion, I’m not sure what happened to them.

We then passed policy on continuing the Donation not Discrimination campaign, supporting Votes for Students (I spoke against), and campaigning for Votes at 16. Next came motions to campaign for the government to recognise non-binary gender identities, a rather amusingly titled motion – “Buggery: we wont take this lying down” from our delegation, and motion calling for the media to be more trans-aware and to condemn the pope on his recent homophobia.

We then discussed the reform section, which dealt with changes to the structure of the campaign. The only thing that I think was dodgy was the decision to create a gay men’s caucus. I was somewhat conflicted on this issue. I’m not a gay man, and felt slightly uncomfortable having a say in whether they should be allowed an official caucus. However, as any groups are allowed to self organise in fringe meetings, and in the 3 years I have been going to these conferences, I have never seen a gay mans meeting, it seemed to me that they didn’t really need one. Also, caucuses are there to let minority voices within the campaign self organise, and gay men are a majority in the campaign. The fact they have a caucus makes it seem they experience a similar level of oppression as black or disabled lgbt students (who are oppressed once because they are LGBT, and again because they are black/disabled), whereas gay men are simply oppressed because they are gay, they are not oppressed because they are men.

We then moved onto the Strong and Active Unions zone, where we voted to condemn the recent changes to the way which delegates are chosen to NUS annual conference, which arguably makes it harder for minority groups to get involved. We confirmed our commitment to being a feminist campaign, and then passed a few motions about activist training and ensuring that committee members can be held to account. We then passed policy on supporting FE colleges with LGBT work, telling unions to organise queer-friendly clubnights, and one to improve the website.

The next motion discussed was one on polyamory that I had written. Ive been supporting poly motions for the last 3 years, so I was very happy that this one finally got discussed. I had a rough night the night before so decided to give my speeches to Sky Yarlett, who did amazingly. The motion was to put out education materials on polyamory, and to change our current material so nothing assumes that people are in monogamous relationships. Some misinformed people spoke against the motion, equating polyamory with promiscuity, which is exactly why we need to educate people on the matter. Someone also said that producing material on polyamory might give homophobes some ammunition to use against us, which is just plain absurd. We shouldn’t not do something to appease a reactionary group! I was very happy when the motion passed with a good majority.

There was then a discussion on a motion to hold committee meetings in the devolved nations, Scotland and Wales, and an amendment to hold one in Northern Ireland. The argument for was that the committee neglect the devolved nations, and it was a step in the right direction in making reparations. A delegate from Northern Ireland made the compelling point that this was simple tokenism, and that if we were going to spend money on shipping committee around the UK, they should be going to meet grassroots activists and not for a meeting that could essentially happen anywhere.

We then passed policy on getting trans involvement in unions and (fantastically) opposing trustee boards of unions that have the power to make political decisions. Its great that we chose to keep our unions student lead! That same motion pushed to encourage a block election system like they have at Liverpool Guild of Students, where everyone runs for president, and the people who come second, third, etc. become vice-presidents with certain portfolios. The motion argued that such a system was more accessible to candidates from the liberation groups, but thankfully people on conference floor pointed out that such as system made it impossible to have a Womens Officer and often made it harder for liberation groups to get elected. Parts were taken, and they were removed. The last few motions of that zone were sent to committee to decide on as we had run out of time.

Next came the Emergency Motions, which most of them weren’t contentious. There was a big debate over the motion to support the Black Students Officer, Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, who was recently censured at National Conference. Both Bell and Daf, one of the LGBT Officers, sent a letter to Durham University Union condemning them for inviting the fascist BNP MEP Andrew Brons to speak on campus, and promising a demo against the event. They also said that should any students be harmed by the invitation to have a fascist speak on campus (as stats show that violence on campus increases when fascists are let on), that the blame would firmly be on Durham unions shoulders. Durham Union was a bit pissed off and threatened to disaffiliate from the NUS. Wes Streeting, the NUS President was quoted as saying that he would sack Daf and Bell if he could and voted to censure them at national conference. At NUS national conference, two similar motions were put forward to censure Daf and Bell, the one against Bell passed, the one against Daf fell. It shows that a degree of racism was present on conference floor. At NUS LGBT, we voted to censure Wes Streeting as he had interfered in the autonomy of the LGBT and Black Students’ campaign as our officers were acting as mandate to do so by their autonomous conferences. This I enjoyed immensely.

The conference as a whole was a success. Most of the discussion went the way I wanted it to, and we elected a good, left wing committee and officers. My only hope is that the more radical elements to committee stay that way and don’t become beaurocrats, as is usually the case with this sort of thing.

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How to make nettle beer

Spring has well and trully sprung, and so it is nettle season again.

This is a recipe for nettle beer – surprisingly nice – which I made a couple of times last springtime. I generally don’t like beers that much, but actually quite liked this one.

I think I stole the recipe off that River Cottage programme on the telly. Might have been from somewhere else.

Ingredients

6l water

About a big bag of salads worth of nettle tops, washed

Juice of 1 lemon, strained

Juice of 1 orange, strained

750g caster sugar

30g cream of tartar

5g yeast

Method

1. First of all go collect the nettles. You want to wear gloves (naturally) and stay away from big roads (no pollution). Just pick the green nettle tops, otherwise it will go a bit bitter.

2.Bring the water to the boil in a large pan.

3.  Add nettles, stir, then remove the pan from the heat and leave to infuse for at least until it is at blood temperature (about 1 1/2 hours)

4. Strain the nettle liquid through a colander lined with a cloth into a large pan.

5. Add the sugar, stirring until its all dissolved, then add the cream of tartar, and lemon and orange juice.

6.  Finally, once the mixture is tepid, stir in the yeast. Cover and leave for 2-3 days in a warm place, until it’s obviously fermenting.

7. Remove any scum which has risen to the top and siphon the beer into clean pop bottles. Leave for a couple more days, and enjoy!

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LGBT, Q? A queer case against the Q

In recent years, a radical political movement has grown to threaten both mainstream capitalist gay culture and heteronormativity* alike. The queer movement grew out of a militant gay rights movement that had been radicalised by mainstream societies’ lack of compassion during the HIV/Aids outbreak in the 80’s.

Social and political theorists started to draw on the movements confrontational anarchist tactics and propaganda to produce academic works highly influenced by third wave feminism, social constructionism and the radical left. They argued that gender and sexuality based oppression should be seen within a context of global capitalism, class, and other power structures such as race and disAbility.

The concept of ‘identity’ was critiqued, and the way that people are coerced into adopting identities based upon seemingly arbitrary factors such as sexual behaviour so they can be easily categorised into and recognised as being either ‘normative’ or ‘deviant’ exposed, the ability to justify oppression against those who happen to fall outside of the normative category challenged. As such, “Queer” is not an identity, but an anti-identity, more of a political ideology than something a person can ‘define into’.

In more recent years, the term ‘queer’ has been adopted by people who feel they aren’t straight/cisgendered, but don’t necessarily fit into the narrowly defined roles of L, G, B and T. This new ‘queer’ is effectively a grouping of lesser known identities such as pansexual and agendered which don’t receive as much attention as other identities.

What this represents is a de-politicisation of the word ‘queer’ and the appropriation of the term as an identity (or even as a group of identities) rather than as an explicitly political ideology, something which is often encouraged by some of the more assimilationist members of the LGBT community who may feel that their identity (or perhaps their reactionary politics) are challenged by the Queer movement.

This is further compounded by the current popularity of the term ‘LGBTQ’, used to group Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer together. By placing ‘queer’ in a list of identities, it essentially reduces it to become one.

“The term ‘queer’ is deliberately provocative and confrontational, in abbreviating it to ‘Q’, this is quality is lost”

Queer theorists have long discussed the importance of language and linguistics in the way that we refer to queer issues, an area of study called ‘lavender linguistics’. Indeed, the term “Queer” itself is deliberately provocative and confrontational; reflecting the radical nature of anarchist queer activism and theorist’s preoccupation with deviancy and normality. In abbreviating ‘queer’ to ‘Q’, this implication is lost, and ‘Q’ could easily be mistaken as meaning ‘questioning’, another term often used by LGBT(Q) youth groups and organisations.

It is important that we see the de-politicisation of Queer in a context of capitalism and the way it seeks to appropriate radical movements and sell them back to us; turning campaigners into consumers and activists into beaurocrats. As queer activists and theorists, we should resist those who wish to engage in this process, those who use queer rhetoric to gain our support but use their platform to push assimilationist ideas. Lets keep queer political, and our movement radical.

*heteronormativity – the assumption that being straight/cisgendered is normal/good and everything else is weird/bad.

Cisgendered – not trans

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Carrot and Cashew Curry

This is one of my favourite recipes taken from the “Another Dinner is Possible”. Its great with raita and spicy rice.

Ingredients Serves 4-6

750g carrots

120ml oil

1-2 onions

7cm peice ginger

2tsp garam masala

1/2-1tsp chili powder

2 tsp flour

200g cashew nuts

2ml stock

3 fresh tomatoes or 200g tinned chopped

salt and pepper

Method

1. Cut the carrot into batons, halve and slice the onion. Peel and shred the ginger.

2. Heat the oil, frying the onion unitl clear and then add the carrots. Cook over a medium heat, adding the ginger, garam masala and chili. After 5 mins, add the flour, cashews and stock. Simmer, covered for 20 mins.

3. Peel and chop the tomatoes and heat through for another 3 or 4 minites.

Enjoy!

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The ACMD in meltdown: a brief history

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was established under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) to give scientific advice to the government regarding drug harms, and specifically on the classification of drugs under the act. The resignation of a seventh member in just a few months is yet another damning indictment of the government’s attitude towards the role of scientific advice in making drug policy decisions.

One can argue that relationships between the ACMD and the Home Office first got onto rocky ground when in January 2009, the then chairman Prof. David Nutt released his “Equasy” paper comparing the harms of horse-riding (with 1 serious event in every 350 exposures) to taking MDMA (with 1 serious event in every 10,000 exposures). He was criticised by the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who demanded an apology for his comments.

Things got heated once again in July 2009, when Nutt gave a lecture repeating his view that drug policy should reflect the harms of the drugs in question, according to present scientific understanding. Nutt objected to the reclassification of cannabis from Class C to Class B, as it lacked scientific reasoning or evidence to back it up. When a pamphlet containing the lecture notes was published in October, the Home Secretary Alan Johnston sacked Nutt, with Johnston stating in a letter: “I can’t have public confusion between scientific advice and policy”. This, as you can quite imagine, opened up a can of worms.

Nutt’s dismissal trailed a wake of protest; pickets of Downing Street by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, outcry from the scientific community and resignations from the ACMD. Dr. Les King, the senior chemist on the council, was the first to resign, followed by Marion Walker, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s representative. King was later to say in an interview that “[the council’s principles] had been distorted by the government to their purposes”.

The ACMD then met with government officials to discuss the role of scientific advise in policy making. Home Office officials did little to reassure the ACMD, and a further 3 members resigned – Simon Campbell, Dr John Marsden and Dr Ian Ragan. The Home Office set to revise its guidelines and principles on how it expected its scientific advisors to behave, which set out to give sanctions to advisors who the Home Office did not share “mutual trust” with, regardless of whether the advisor had broken any of the official Codes of Practice. Shortly afterwards Dr. Polly Taylor resigned from the council saying that she ‘lacks confidence’ in the way the government will treat the ACMD’s advice and that she felt “that there is little more we can do to describe the importance of ensuring that advice is not subjected to a desire to please ministers or the mood of the day’s press”.

On April 1st,  another member of the ACMD, Eric Carlin, resigned. Disillusioned with the lack of emphasis placed upon harm reduction efforts and the Home Office pushing through the ban of mephedrone under pressure from corporate media before the ACMD had chance to properly discuss the matter, he said in his resignation letter: “I am not prepared to continue to be part of a body which, as its main activity, works to facilitate the potential criminalisation of increasing numbers of young people”, and that the ACMD’s recent decision regarding mephedrone was “unduly based on media and political pressure”.

In the next few weeks, as politicians try to push through that mephedrone ban, it is likely that more members of the ACMD will resign in protest. The ACMD cannot legally operate with less than 20 members, and the ACMD recently appointed 3 new members; Hew Mathewson (a dentist), Gillian Arr-Jones (a pharmacist) and Prof. Simon Gibbons (a phytochemist). This has been construed by some as a cynical attempt to keep the ACMD functioning with the increasing threat of more resignations.

The ACMD is in meltdown. We must ask ourselves; does the government have any scientific credibility anymore? If drug policy isnt badsed on scientific evidence then what is it based on?

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Hate Crime Legislation: Why it doesn’t protect us

Scotland has recently enacted a new hate crime law dealing with crimes motivated by disablism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Whilst some community groups are praising this move as progressive, I’m not so sure.

First of all, let us look at what hate crime legislation actually does. If a crime is seen to be motivated by prejudice, the perpetrator of that crime gets a tougher sentence than if the crime is not judged to be motivated by a named phobia or prejudice. This effectively is criminalising not the action in itself, which would be criminalised anyway, but the perpetrator for what they were thinking at the time. This is essentially thoughtcrime. It shouldn’t make a difference what a killer is thinking at the time of a murder, it is still murder.

I think it is necessary to discuss why exactly ‘hate crime’ happens. Interpersonal violence happens, not because there aren’t enough laws, but because prejudice and bigotry is endemic in our society. Tackling discrimination is something that needs to be proactive, not reactive, if it has any chance of succeeding. At the moment, however, our government is doing precious little to proactively challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, whilst actively discriminating against these groups. Hate crime legislation such as this is rarely something useful, but rather a cynical attempt to appear to be ‘doing something’ on the issue of discrimination.

The state is setting itself up to be seen as the only protector of our communities and the only mechanism in which justice can be achieved; when in effect it is actually one of our biggest oppressors. The institutional discrimination our communities face in prison, in the lack of provision for victims of domestic abuse and same sex rape or even with the NHS ban on gay and bi men giving blood is the real face of our the states attitude towards our community. If the state set itself up as the instrument of justice in our communities, it can justify smashing any autonomous groups organising their own attempt at community justice.

Furthermore, due to the institutional bigotry in our policing, marginalised groups like LGBT, BME and disabled people are over-represented in prisons, and often face institutional discrimination whilst in prison. Putting people convicted of hate crimes in prison for longer than they otherwise would be, where they can continue to target the same groups in a harsh environment is not a positive thing. It is not in our interest as a community to entrust our protection to the state.

It is sad that well meaning liberals support legislation such as this, which is fundamentally disempowering to our communities. It is sad that we are trusting an institution to oppress us when that institution is our biggest oppressor.

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Mephedrone: A little perspective?

Calls to ban the legal high mephedrone (or meow meow, mcat, etc.) have increased since the recent, tragic deaths of teenagers Nick Smith and Louis Wainwright after taking the drug.  I want to focus on the harms associated with the drug, and a bit about what we can do legally and socially to reduce those harms.

Lets get this straight, mephedrone has very real harms. Whilst we can’t fully know the cause of Nick Smith and Louis Wainwright’s deaths until the toxicology reports are released, it is likely that mephedrone had some part to play in their death, along with the alcohol they had drank. Whilst the media have previously misrepresented mephedrone’s role in some deaths*, the harms associated with mephedrone cannot be ignored. They should, however, be placed in context.

Mephedrone has been associated with relatively few deaths in the UK and worldwide, especially when compared with other drugs. The few deaths associated with mephedrone pale in comparison when compared to the 22,000 deaths a year caused as a direct result of drinking alcohol, or the 106,000 deaths a year from smoking. Whilst the sheer numbers of deaths due to these ‘culturally acceptable’ drugs should be shocking, they don’t experience the same sensationalist reporting given to mephedrone. Why? Partly because alcohol and tobacco are culturally acceptable; we’re ‘used’ to it killing people. Partly because mephedrone is new, and partly, I think, to some sort of cultural snobbery – people finding the idea of putting things up your nose distasteful.

We know very little about mephedrone, because it is so new, little research has been done on how it reacts with our bodies and what effects it might have. One thing we do know is that it can cause vasoconstriction – the narrowing of the blood vessels – which can put increased pressure on the heart. Vasoconstriction also makes you go pale, make your feet and hands cold, and is the reason many people find it difficult to get an erection on mephedrone (for info on erections and meph, go to the comments section after you have read the rest)  Vasoconstriction as a result of taking mephedrone is unlikely to kill someone on its own, however, so other contributing factors such as underlying medical problems and the effects of other drugs (such as alcohol) taken at the same time are probably significant. There might also be some effects of mephedrone that we simply don’t know about yet.

Banning mephedrone would be a backwards step, for obvious reasons; putting a popular but potentially harmful substance in the hands of unaccountable dealers can only be a bad thing. The legal high market isn’t perfect**, but at least product purity (and so dosage) is something users can rely on. Banning mephedrone would only mean that users would be putting mephedrone + crushed glass up their noses on a night out.

What we need to focus on is getting some good harm reduction information out there about mephedrone. All drug taking involves a certain amount of risk, but there are ways of reducing the risks associated with drug use. So, the safest way of using mephedrone is not to go there. Failing that, avoiding poly-drug use (which seems to be implicated in most of the cases I have read about), doing mephedrone in a safe environment and keeping an eye on how much you are using are all good ideas. It is probably preferable to ‘bomb’ – take it orally – rather than snort, as snorting can damage the nasal membranes. If you are snorting, however, make sure you don’t shart tubes, and don’t use notes. Make sure you keep warm, too, as mephedrone can make you a tad cold. If anyone else has any decent harm reduction advice, please feel free to comment.

*Like the death of Gabrielle Price, which the Daily Mail, The Sun and The Telegraph attributed to mephedrone whilst toxicology reports revealed that she died from broncho-pneumonia from an infection.

** The legal high market is far from perfect. Legal highs are often more dangerous than illicit highs and in the most part severely under-researched. Legal high manufacturers should be able to give out harm reduction information, but in the most cases are restricted in doing so by the law, as giving out such information would be somehow encouraging people to use a substance as a drug and not as a plant fertiliser or a ‘research chemical’. Still, purity and quantity is guaranteed which is a big leap from the illicit drugs market. Hopefully one day both markets will be regulated intelligently, and harm reduction information given out with each purchase.

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