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Trans students need representation: Don’t take away our officer NUS

Trans students need representation: Don’t take away our officer NUS

Rob Noon is the LGBT+ Officer (Open Place) for the UK National Union of Students who are threatening to defund the NUS Trans campaign | Photo: Rob Noon

The first time I came across trans activism was in April 2016.

As a college student at the NUS National Conference in Brighton, where hundreds of students descended upon a building on the historic seafront to debate policy and elect the political leadership for the next year.

I didn’t really understand a lot of what was happening. But in the sea of campaign teams and colorful slogan t-shirts, I noticed a group of students in white shirts.

They were campaigning for something, instead of someone.

The Transform NUS campaign team, a group of volunteer trans students campaigning for their national union to have a paid full-time Trans officer and autonomous campaign.

After a three years campaign, that day in 2016 was the final push.

They were successful, and the motion was passed. But now, just three years later that is at risk.

Rob Noon leading calls for free education at a protest with students | Photo: Julie Somany
Rob Noon leading calls for free education at a protest with students | Photo: Julie Somany

Coming from my double life, trans representation of this kind was so empowering

I remember feeling a deep sense of admiration for this group of strangers in white shirts.

Having only recently come out to my family who, like countless others, refused to acknowledge the fact I was trans.

So I was living a double life, with one name and set of pronouns for home and another for college. Which meant I was clinging to the hope of a fresh start at university. But in the meantime, I was struggling to feel safe in my own home.

I was even fighting to get a simple referral from my GP. Knowing next to no other trans people , I was also struggling with the worst period of depression I’d ever experienced.

This made me realize I was the trans student they were fighting for.

A huge rush of adrenaline, and I found myself on the podium

So when the time came for the proposed motion to be debated and one delegate spoke against, I found my hand shooting up to defend it.

A huge rush of adrenaline hit my body as a walked towards the podium in front of hundreds of students from all across the UK. It was one of the first times I’d ever done any public speaking and

I had, of course, not prepared a speech.

With tears in my eyes, I urged the conference to support the motion and, thankfully, it passed.

Our campaign is a success story for trans activism

A lot has changed since that day in Brighton in 2016. I continued to be involved with NUS, eventually running for the first ever NUS trans committee and then later to be a full-time LGBT+ officer.

We have worked to build a campaign that those who pushed for its creation would be proud of. The NUS Trans campaign has been at the forefront of the fight for trans liberation in the UK.

Last year, in collaboration with NUS LGBT+ and NUS Women’s campaigns we successfully mobilized Students Unions’ to respond to the government’s Gender Recognition Act consultation. This against the violent transphobia spouted from media outlets and even academics from our own institutions.

The campaign has also presented a radical and democratic vision for trans healthcare to contrast the breadcrumb reform approach of more liberal LGBT organisations, all while supporting countless trans student activists in fighting transphobia on their campuses.

Don’t take funds away from trans students when they need it most

Since its creation, NUS trans campaign has provided a unique and trailblazing organizing space for the next generation of trans people. But now it is under attack.

Following the financial crisis, the NUS UK Turnaround board has voted to defund the trans officer and committee for at least the 2019/2020 term. The decision was made without a single conversation with a representative from the campaign or even us, the current LGBT+ officers, who are both trans.

This is alongside other democratic reforms as a part of a plan to get the organization to the financial safety, but we believe that NUS can find the money it aims to save elsewhere in the organization.

Ultimately, this decision is a political one and thus warrants a political response.


Rob Noon is a trans and non-binary activist | Photo: Rob Noon
Rob Noon is a trans and non-binary activist | Photo: Rob Noon

This is why we’re launching the #SaveNUStrans campaign, asking for Students Unions and activists to stand in solidarity with trans students once again.

We believe that the representation and resources offered by an autonomous trans campaign are vital. This year, maybe more than ever before.

We’re facing truly unprecedented levels of transphobia within our own universities and colleges.

Transphobes are a very real and material threat to our access to healthcare and gendered services.

With the government launching an inquiry into the rapidly increasing numbers of young people identifying as trans and nonbinary, it is absolutely paramount that there is a national voice for our generation.

I had an opportunity to stand up for trans students on that stage in 2016 and now you do too.

Please join us and @saveNUStrans. Rob Noon is the open place NUS LGBT+ officer.

See also:

Ian McKellen to speak at National Student Pride in London next month

Why everyone should include pronouns in their email signature