The set up for the LGBT Question Time is somewhat different to others. Chairs are placed in a circle and the Hub is screened with a blue curtain in order to protect the anonymity of its members. The audience is relatively small but everyone seems to know each other and there is a feeling of entering a small, protected environment, a close knit community where members have more similarities than differences.
Both the audience and the candidates seemed like a well meshed and inclusive group, sensitive to each others needs at all times and with candidates willing to admire each others policies. In fact, one of the audience questions concerned which of their competitors’ manifesto aims did the candidates most like. Reed later claimed that as all three candidates are friends, it was “difficult” for them to campaign against each other. This comes across in many of the manifesto aims which, while not all the same, probably would not be objectionable to anyone in the network. Indeed the differences between the candidates came more from an issue of priorities rather than wildly opposing aims. All three candidates: Abigail Alcock, Elliott Reed and Cristobel Burns are committed to the Homophobia in Halls campaign, reaching out to potential members through publicity and improving involvement by changing some misconceptions about the network itself.
However, their absolute priorities varied greatly. Reed had the Homophobia in Halls campaign as his main priority, incorporating publicity lasting all year round, not just Week One. For Alcock, LGBT health is a key concern, especially in the face of government cuts. LGBT members will need both support and lobbying for improved rights. For Burns, the creation of ‘Gayline’, an LGBT helpline in association with nightline, was the centrepiece of her manifesto pledges.
The questions ranged from the practical, such as questions over experience levels and time sharing duties with academic work to the more complex, such as what experience the candidates have of people who identify differently to themselves within the network.
One campaign of particular importance was the Homophobia in Halls campaign – to wipe out homophobia in halls, although each saw a slightly different route to achieving this goal. Alcock believed staff involvement and education, citing occasions she is aware of where staff have witnessed homophobic attitudes and not intervened. Reed wanted the implementation of an instant complaints system in which all students, not only LGBT students, can make their complains heard with fast feedback. Burns wanted greater involvement and education of the JCR reps, and especially wanted to stamp out homophobic chants.
A particularly interesting question involved supporting students living abroad, especially those in Malaysia, where both homosexuality and unions are outlawed. All the candidates agreed that the only useful thing they could do would be to provide support and information both before and during peoples exchange period, making sure they are aware of potential issues and knowing who to contact in country for further support.
On the subject of their future committee style, Burns acknowledged individual attitudes differ and that the ideal leader should support all of these styles as much as possible. The other two candidates also stressed communication and teamwork as strategies that have achieved success in the past.
One issue brought up which seemed separate the candidates somewhat, was the use of stereotypes by the network and whether their use help or harm availability to potential members. Both Alcock and Reed claimed the use of stereotypes, specifically the use of an image of Bruno (Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film creation) in official LGBT material, was meant humorously and that the network must be careful of being too controlling, with Reed claiming “I’m all for political correctness, but you have to keep a sense of humour” and Alcock saying that we don’t want “complete neutrality”. Burns on the other hand objected to the use of such stereotypes, claiming the image “would have put me off joining the LGBT network”. This debate elicited a number of responses and resulted in a wider discussion of the issue in the audience rather than merely based on the candidates opinions.
Each candidate acknowledged that campaigning on campus was more of a delicate activity than campaigning for Accommodation or Welfare Officer would be. As the only students eligible to vote are those who self define themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, asexual and/or unsure/undecided or anyone who self-defines as experiencing homophobia, biphobia and/or transphobia for not fitting into heteronormative society, the voting does not extend to the entire student body and the candidates work within a relatively small segment of the University population. One point everyone agreed on was an increasing awareness of the network within the Student’s Union.