Equality is Union Business
Words by Leila Clendon
The Adelaide University Union’s decision to vote against support for Marriage Equality makes it the only student union in the state, and one of the few student unions in the country not to support the ‘Yes Vote’ in the postal survey.
By voting down the motions, the union is not taking a neutral stance, as the Board President has claimed; it is supporting the status quo that currently denies a certain section of our society the same civil rights as the rest. The fact that in Australia, people are treated differently under the law based on their sexuality, is a massive infringement on civil rights. This has been a debate in our society ever since the ban was passed in 2004, but it’s been brought back to the centre of attention by the postal vote.
The student union is a body elected by students; 81% of whom support marriage equality. When a section of that student body is denied its civil rights, the union is faced with a question: does it defend those students, or does it refuse to? Our union has chosen the latter position, staying silent on the oppression of LGBTI students, and in turn, continuing to deny their rights. That is not a neutral or apolitical position, that is a position that validates homophobia.
There are many debates on how involved the union should be in the fights for civil rights: should the union organise the rallies? Should it fund the campaign? Should it call on its members to act? But the union failed the most basic demand: to tell LGBTI students that their union does not support their oppression.
This shows that the politics of the people in the union is incredibly important in how the union is run. The union is constantly faced with inherently political questions that Board and SRC members must face.
Student unions and trade unions around the country have recognised the importance of showing solidarity with LGBTI people, in the struggle for their rights. The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ stance on the issue is encapsulated in their new slogan that has been adopted by other unions: Equality is Union Business. This is important because even though it is only LGBTI people that are denied their civil rights and face homophobia, the power of unions, and of ordinary people is weakened by it. Like all oppressions - be it transphobia, racism, islamophobia or sexism - homophobia smashes the confidence of gay people, and convinces people that they have more interests in common with the people that oppress them than with their LGBTI peers. In reality, the people that are doing everything in their power to delay marriage equality, are the same people that vilify and harass Muslim people, the same people that lock up and torture refugees, the same people that benefit from the gender wage gap and the same people who slash penalty rates. We can’t fight one of these oppressions, without confronting them all, and that means every union, or group that claims to represent people, should be in the fight for marriage equality.
However, regardless of Adelaide University Union’s position, the national yes campaign has already broken the record of biggest LGBTI rights rallies is Australian history, twice. There is overwhelming support for the yes campaign and we have every chance of winning.
The dinosaurs on the AUU Board will be remembered as being on the wrong side of history.
Leila Clendon is the current Social Justice Officer for the Adelaide University Student Representative Council.