Susie Hirst, Disabled Students’ Community Leader, and Gigi Meyer, Trans Students’ Community Leader, both attended the National Union of Students (NUS) Liberation Conference at the Winter Gardens, under the lights of the Blackpool tower, on Monday 17th and Tuesday 18th April 2023. The conference brought together student representatives from students’ unions and guilds all across the UK in order to embrace all spectrums of liberation. The event commenced with a welcome to all conference delegates from the current NUS Officers. The conference space embraced diversity by providing a quiet area in part of the room and delegates also quickly embraced sign language applause instead of clapping to show their appreciation to the speakers. The NUS also reported on the outcome of an antisemitism review of the organisation and provided an apology for the findings in the report. The guest speaker was Dr Ruth Pearce, a former NUS officer and author of “Understanding Trans Health”, where she discussed current issues facing trans students.
Accessibility Sessions – Susie Hirst
In the afternoon of the first day, the delegates were invited to a number of different policy development sessions.
I attended the Accessibility session. This involved a type of fishbowl exercise where the attendees discussed and contributed to the proposed accessibility policy by debating important access issues. This policy consisted of four key issues:
· Dudley College Student’s Union considered support for disabled students where student awareness was key.
· Manchester SU focussed on event accessibility information.
· Huddersfield SU brought the issue of disabled housing to the forefront of the policy.
· Liverpool SU concentrated on campus accessibility in general.
It became clear almost immediately on Monday that the conference considered that all 4 policies were too large to be lumped together and called for them to be given more individual focus. Our table were invited to come up with a combined demand for change in less than 30 words. The result prepared by us reflected the need to improve access to information, breakdown barriers to learning, increased accountability, strengthen legislation and support year-round leadership training.
Full notes and policies from the Accessibility Sessions can be found on the NUS-owned google drive at this link.
Supporting Trans Rights Sessions – Gigi Meyer
On day one, myself and my aid bunkered down in Foyer 1 - we decided to dedicate our entire time at the conference to strictly addressing trans issues, although I’m also a member of the disabled students’ community; I didn’t want to cramp Susie’s style. We heard the initial policy proposed by Sheffield University Students’ Union, which I found was limited in the issues it sought to address and didn’t accurately reflect trans students as a whole as a result, and so we spent the day dissecting the double-sided four-page document – all delegates contributing valid, intersectional points of view and reference to better inform and eventually amend the overall policy.
We managed to focus the policy on the enforcement of preferred names and pronouns by Universities, regardless of a student’s legal gender recognition status (as students without one can suffer many layers of systematic discrimination as a result of university non-compliance), as well as a call for additional gender-neutral spaces alongside gendered areas (these are considered important too for religious, cultural and trauma-related reasons). Finally, we unanimously agreed a unified nationwide policy opposing the current Government’s frankly diabolical treatment of transgender people, offering full support to Scotland in their bid to pass their progressive reform laws that were blocked earlier this year by Westminster. We also did the fishbowl exercise and came up with our demand for change which emphasised the need to demonstrate unity and strength together while challenging trans-exclusionary views and practices.
Full notes and policies from the Supporting Trans Rights Sessions can be found on the NUS-owned google drive at this link.
Looking to the future...
Finally, Susie Hirst and Gigi Meyer both stood forward and submitted nominations for themselves in the NUS elections to represent students on the Liberation Committee and took part in campaigning during the conference. Following the conference, while Susie was not successful in her campaign, Gigi was successfully elected the next NUS Liberation Campaign Committee delegate, representing trans students on a national platform for the next academic year. “I’ve got my work cut out for me” she laughed to herself after being initially stunned upon reading the election results release. The conference itself was overall a very pleasant experience for all, and was a great opportunity for the LBSU delegates to demonstrate our taken action and commitment to empowering our unique and intersectional student community here in Leeds; offering carefully curated, alternative solutions to make all students lives better. Here at LBSU, we look forward to the future always - both here in Leeds, and across the UK with the NUS; together we are strong, and it’ll be another great journey for LBSU Student Community members over the next year to achieve change for students.
Susan Hirst (she/her) & Gigi Meyer (she/her)