Bristol students vote to no-platform trans-exclusionary feminists in heated annual members meeting
Yay student politics
Everyone knows that student politics can sometimes be pretty dry. But Tuesday’s SU Annual Members Meeting was anything but, as Bristol students voted in favour of banning anti-trans speakers on a night of high drama.
On an evening dubbed the biggest democratic event in the UoB calendar, a motion proposing to prevent Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) from holding events on campus prompted a major row over free speech, but was ultimately passed without amendment.
The atmosphere on the evening was tense from the off. Rumours of security on site circulated and by the time the anti-TERF motion came to the floor, the issue of trans rights had already sparked some disagreement during discussion of an earlier unrelated motion.
Opening the debate, FemSoc’s vivacious President Francesca Gluscevic made the case for no-platforming, arguing that TERF rhetoric, by encouraging trans-exclusionary legislation, has a “direct impact on safety” for trans people. Gluscevic cited the frequency with which trans people are murdered as a further argument against accommodating anti-trans activists on campus.
Proposing to remove the no-platforming element from the motion, a student called Zak condemned trans-exclusionary beliefs but took issue with the proposed curbs on freedom of speech and assembly. Such measures, would supposedly be turned against already marginalised groups, including trans people. Depriving TERFs of the publicity that no-platforming brings was another argument against the motion.
From there, the debate became increasingly heated with both sides throwing some serious shade. Francesca called the amendment “God awful”, and several students pitched in. One described TERFs as “exactly the same as fascists”. Zak doubled down on their defence of free speech, arguing that reasoned debate can change the minds of anti-trans activists.
Zak’s amendment went to a vote, which was conducted via secret ballot. The result was clear: the amendment failed, with 55 votes for and 114 against.
After a short break, the simmering tension came to a head. Student Izzy Posen spoke against the anti-TERF motion, boldly proclaiming their right to describe a person with a penis as a man. Almost immediately, Posen was whisked off stage for violating the AMM code of conduct to cries of “You’re a bigot!”
The debate soon resumed and the need to prioritise some rights over others emerged as a running theme. One student said free speech should be “absolute”, while another declared “our existence is not up for debate” to loud cheers from the floor.
But the drama wasn’t over yet. To the fury of some in the room, a letter from Women’s Place UK, the supposed TERF organisation whose meeting on campus inspired the motion, was read to the audience. It encouraged students to vote against the “defamatory” motion. At this point the vote was hurried forwards to prevent things getting out of hand. The result came through to the loudest cheers of the night: the motion had passed, by 90 votes to 42.
Among the other successful proposals on the night was a motion titled “Denounce Brexit”. Its passage into policy means the SU will have to openly oppose any deal on offer to leave the EU. You can expect an open letter to Bristol MPs on the subject too.
Another motion opposed cuts to a UoB scholarship programme for refugees and asylum seekers. Second year Matt Dominey and third year Fleur Williams, representing respectively student-led charity Jacari and STAR (Student Action for Refugees), spoke out in favour and earned a warm round of applause as their motion passed unanimously.
Other successful motions stated support for striking staff, established a male-only fitness programme and mandated a proactive approach to countering sexual assault on campus. Due to the low attendance of the meeting, all motions will need to be ratified by the Student Council in June.
There was some other activity besides the motions. Delegates voted to affiliate with the NUS and other student organisations. The SU elected officers also gave updates on their recent activity but this was all quite boring to be honest so you can head over to Epigram if you want to know what was said.