The Importance of Being Liberal

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The position of the Women’s Officer is mentioned in another letter, and I won’t go into detail here. This is a review of why we have the liberation campaigns as a core part of LUSU and why they are still needed. The main focus of them is not to make sure that we are all treated the same, but by ensuring that people from minority groups or face discrimination for a number of reasons get the chance to equally participate in every aspect of university life.

LGBT

  • 72% of young lesbians and gay men indicated that they had either played truant or feigned illness to avoid homophobic abuse at school
  • Only 6% of British schools have homophobic bullying policy, despite homophobic bullying being endemic in schools
  • Same sex sexual activity for men is explicitly illegal in more than 80 states around the world, and for women in more than 40 states
  • It wasn’t until 1992 that the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders

YourLGBT was set up for three main reasons. One, for social reasons, to meet other people. Two, for support, sometimes coming out can be very difficult for someone to do, and YourLGBT is able to support them in this and ensure that they do not feel alone. And finally three, for campaigning, one of the reasons people join LGBT groups is because of homophobia. Many people join to campaign against homophobia, hetereosexism and other forms of discrimination.

It is true that a lot has changed, and there is a lot of legislation that has been passed, the age of consent has been equalised, civil partnerships, gay couples can adopt, discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sexuality has been outlawed (though with exemptions for religious organisations).but there are things that still need doing. Discrimination in goods and services is outlawed for gay, lesbian and bi sexual people but not for people that identify as trans. There is a large amount of homophobia that is still accepted by the media and by society. I will use the liberal democrat leadership campaign in 2006 as the example. It focused on the sexual orientation of two of the candidates Simon Hughes and Mark Oaten (who then withdrew).

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In addition to this, homophobic hate crime is rising, homophobic bullying is reaching endemic proportions in schools, and LGBT students face difficulties gaining funding for HE if they are thrown out of their homes by their parents.

What has this got to do with students? LGBT students are part of a society that systematically discriminates against them. Among LGBT students nationally there are high numbers of hate crime, those refused goods or services because of their sexuality, and students who are bullied or harassed, to name but a few. And, unfortunately LGBT Students do experience discrimination that relates to their student lives and lives as graduates from further or higher education. LGBT students face losing all funding if they come out to their parents, since HE funding relies on parental assessment.

SWD

  • Only 42% of disabled people of working age are in employment compared to 81% of non-disabled people of working age
  • Barriers to education mean that disabled people are more than twice as likely as non-disabled people to have no formal academic or vocational qualifications.
  • On average, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in the course of a year.

In a recent survey, 70% had experienced discrimination in response to their own mental distress or in response to that of a friend or family member.
The struggle to get recognition and equality for students closely mirrors the situation within UK society in general. Disable people have been campaigning for civil liberties legislation for years, and SWD students have been actively involved in this campaign.

Perhaps the greatest barrier that students with disabilities face on a daily basis is the attitude of other people and the stigma of being disabled. There is a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion surrounding disabilities, and there is often stigma attached to ‘coming out’ as a disabled student, either at university or in the workplace. A vital part of what the SWD campaign in LUSU is devoted to campaigning to remove the stigma from all disabilities, and to encourage all members of Lancaster University to take a positive attitude to understanding the nature of disability and over-coming prejudices.

One of the main campaigns that SWD Campaign is correcting the misunderstanding of what a disability is. Mental health is an example of a disability that is not obvious to a casual observer. The SWD Campaign works hard to raise awareness of the different forms of disability, and to encourage society to bear in mind less obvious when promoting diversity and access. The key effect of the stigmas and attitudinal problems attached to disability is a lack of involvement of students with disabilities in student life and in the student’s union.
Black and Minority Ethnic Students

  • Research by the DfES found that black students are less likely to get a first class degree when all other factors are equal. Discrimination is rife in education.
  • Annual top-up fees of £3,000 plus burden Black students with decades of debt as Black graduates are 4 time more likely to be unemployed so get saddled with debts for longer.
  • In 2004, Black workers earned an average of £7.50 per hour, compared with £8.00 per hour for workers from white backgrounds. This gap has been increasing since 1998.
  • On average, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women earn only 56% of the average hourly wage of white men.

Black is used in the political sense, and acknowledges that the immense diversity in and between the African, Arab, Asian and Caribbean communities, it also recognises that the commonalities and basis of their experiences are also marked by racism and the under representation of the communities in all institutional structures. Black students make up 20% of overall student population, yet they are among the least represented groups in its democratic structures. Black students will continue to experience disadvantage, missing out on vital academic and welfare support. As students get more into debt with the introduction of fees and facing even more debt with the review of the cap, black students face additional barriers in education: lower grades when anonymous marking is not in place, higher drop out rates and more exclusion.

A lot of the students at Lancaster are international students and with the excessive tuition fees and visa charges along with difficulties accessing core services such as bank accounts which add to the financial burden many are facing. We have the International Students Officers and the Race Relations to campaign on these issues and to make sure that the Student’s Union is representing every one of their members.

At LUSU, we have these positions to help combat the discrimination that faces people and to increase representation, but do it effectively as well. Effective representation needs to include members of disadvantaged groups themselves; otherwise it is open to accusations of tokenism. I am glad that you have had a fundamentally liberal education, but some people don’t and many people go on to experience discrimination in later life. The purpose of having these campaigns is to ensure that we can do a little bit to make the future that bit more equal. So that racism, homophobia, disablism and sexual discrimination is reduced and stopped.