Friday, 8 February 2013

Why I'm not running in my union elections

Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone who encouraged me to run in the election & everyone who has supported me in the last few months, those friends who have ferried me to hospital appointments and given their time to listen to me. Partners, who have emotionally supported me & helped remind me who I am at times when I lost sight of that. Comrades and activists up and down the country who inspire me and remind me why we do what we do. I feel privileged to have you all in my life.

I’ve made no secret about how much of a difficult time I've had with Edge Hill Students' Union over the past couple of years. From the destruction of the student council, to poisonous nepotism and the active discouragement of student participation from certain sabs, I've found engaging with my union continually disheartening. I felt consistently unrepresented, as LGBT+, as a woman, as a disabled student. I felt these groups were ignored. After an interaction with a sab who stated that they didn't feel they represented these groups in their first year in their role but didn't feel they 'had time' to represent these groups in their second year, I was horrified, I was dismissed.

I decided something had to change so became involved in my union in multiple ways: I didn't want to be an armchair activist. I took a leading role in rebuilding the non-existent LGBT+ Society, we created a community that was formerly invisible on campus. We did amazing things like being quoted in the universities' anti-discrimination policy, getting our safe space policy union-wide, having Peter Tatchell talk on campus, holding safe space support, campaign, social and educational meetings for students every week.

 We took Edge Hill Students to their first NUS LGBT Conference, we joined forces with the three Liverpool Universities to form Merseyside LGBT Students' Network. We networked with LGBT activists up and down the country and through MLSN I saw what a union that cares about *everyone* looks like. I lead LGBT students on their first demo, we built relationships with LGBT staff & got a gender neutral toilets motion passed at directorate and then held a direct action when facilities management decided to ignore the motion. I hope after leaving Edge Hill that even if for a short time, the work we did has improved life for LGBT students on campus. In this time I learnt just how powerful the passion of a few people can be.

But this wasn't written to brag about what we achieved. The the primary reason I decided during my second year to run for vice president of arts and sciences was because of the way, despite the positive change I helped instigate on campus, some sabs who should have been encouraging and supporting this change, were still dismissive. And there was a lot of work left to do.

In my time attempting to be proactive on campus I tolerated sexist jokes, I tolerated the condescending looks, tones and emails. I even tolerated an incident when three male (cis/straight) men laughed at a transphobic postcard we received during a post secrets campaign for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, because I felt ignorance was their problem. As a result of this me and other students in the society arranged and delivered an educational session on trans* oppression. Of the two remaining staff who first laughed at the joke, the one who turned up made a joke about me attempting to turn him into a homosexual.

I spoke about my running for election openly. I was planning on slating with Kate Jackson, a brilliant woman who is one of our best allies on campus. I received a mixed reaction from union sabs from encouragement, to amusement and even active verbal discouragement from one person! I had fellow students delete me from social networking website because they were running, too. I had other candidates interrogate me about Kate Jackson’s campaign every time they saw me! But, despite the election stress I was determined that minority group students should no longer be made to feel unimportant, I built up good links with the Islam Society and the Christian Union, I attended Feminist Society meetings, and I had meetings with the universities’ head of Equality and Diversity. I decided that with enough energy and passion students on a grassroots level could instigate change themselves. I had decided my slogan, my campaign colours, and my manifesto. So what changed? Well…me.

A fair amount of people on campus know about the fact I’m disabled. I’ve made sure LGBT+ Society has had a regular disabled caucus and that it’s accessible to people with a range of disabilities. Being out about being disabled, for me, is harder than being out about my sexuality. People get used to the fact you’re not straight, but that you’re disabled? Completely different. And there have been huge barriers in participating with the union because of my disability. I planned to change them, I planned to do for disabled students what we had done for LGBT students, and to put disabled students at the center of that change.

So now, instead of talking about what’s wrong with the behaviour of some individuals in the union, I’m going to talk about what’s wrong with me. I recently found out that the medication I’m on which slightly improved my eyes, has stopped working. It’s truly heart-breaking to find out that medicine that has severe symptoms (weight gain, energy loss etc) on everyday life isn’t doing what it should. My eyes are slowly getting worse and because of the symptoms, my hypothyroidism is getting worse. And because of the nature of hypothyroidism my bouts of depression and anxiety are getting worse.

Yes, there are still significant problems with the way some members of union staff feel entitled to treat serious issues surrounding ability, gender and sexuality. But I’ve had to take the decision to step away from the union this year in order to allow myself time to read, time to attend hospital every other week and time to spend with important people in my life. Coz, guys, what is scarier to me than allowing idiots to go on behaving like idiots; is not knowing if I’m going to lose my vision. If you’ve met me, which I’m presuming you have as you’re reading this: you know I care, a lot. And until I know whether or not I will be losing my sight I’m going to direct some of that care towards myself and the important (and often neglected) people in my life. I’m tired, increasingly depressed and I don’t have the energy to keep banging my head against the brick wall of other peoples’ ignorance. I have plenty of other battles and I’m not just politically active on campus, honestly, with the behaviour I’ve seen displayed I feel those individuals need positive change more than I do.

For those of you whose health allows you to run in this campaign: good luck. There are some amazing candidates who actually care, I should know, I was meant to have the privilege of running alongside one. 

Thanks for reading, if you have read all this! And thank you to all the amazing student LGBT, Women's, Disabled activists who remind me that there are people who are fighting for change. I'm going to miss not seeing (pun intended) you as often as I'm used to! 

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