Trans and Non-binary Liberation candidate: Elliot Byrom

The Student contacted Trans and Non-binary Liberation candidate Elliot regarding his campaign and manifesto. To read Elliot’s manifesto, click here.

 

What motivated you to run for this position?

Having been the Trans Non-Binary and Intersex Officer for PrideSoc for the last two years, I was excited when plans for this position were announced. My experience in PrideSoc has allowed me to work with and get to know several members of the Edinburgh University Students’ Association already, and see up close the problems facing trans and non-binary students at Edinburgh, as well as the solutions.

What are your thoughts on the mandatory interruptions policy?

I am strongly opposed to the mandatory interruptions policy. It is bad news for everyone, but the trans and non-binary community will be among the most affected, along with the other groups represented by the Lib Campaigns. Transgender identities are already medicalised to a large degree, which leaves us particularly vulnerable to this policy. Additionally, as a community, we have high instances of mental health problems, the solution to which is not the forced removal of struggling individuals from their support systems and community. I am particularly concerned by the idea of trans and non-binary students being forced to take an interruption, having their funding removed, and then having to return to unsupportive family situations.

What is the most ambitious point on your manifesto and how do you plan to tackle it?

The most ambitious point in my manifesto is my plan to tackle transphobia on campus, both in terms of changes made to the Equality and Diversity Policy (outlined below) and policy on the removal of transphobic materials on campus.

Currently, when transphobic materials are posted around campus it falls to concerned students to document and remove them. This is unacceptable, as it places responsibility for dealing with these harmful messages on those who are most severely impacted by them.

I plan to work with the Staff Pride Network to pressure the university into enacting a new policy that requires frequent, regular sweeps by security and maintenance staff to identify and remove these materials. From conversations I have had with staff members, I know that at least some the maintenance and security staff are already informed on the issues and wish to help. I believe that more organised and sustained outreach will allow us to make key connections with Security and Estates that will provide the influence we need to enact this policy.

Antisemitic graffiti was found in the toilets of the Old Medical School on Thursday. Transphobic graffiti has also been found in university bathrooms. How should the university be tackling hate crime and does our university have a hate problem?

Current policy on dealing with hate crime is too vague in its definition and it lacks the teeth necessary for enforcement. The response by the university to the distribution of transphobic materials has been too slow, and overly-focused on “free speech” and “civil debate” in response to actions that encourage neither.

The clear majority of the university, both staff and students, do not agree with the posting of these appalling materials and graffiti. However, the lack of sufficiently severe response by the university has made it easier for a small group of individuals to dominate the conversation, resulting in the illusion of a “hate problem”.

You mention you want to increase dialogue between personal tutors (PTs) and students. What would you do to educate PTs about the correct way of doing this?

I plan to work with the LGBT+ Liberation Officer to continue and expand the LGBT+ Advocacy scheme across all schools and departments. This training will inform and educate PTs on LGBT+ issues, including those affecting trans and non-binary students, removing students’ responsibility to educate. This will allow a clearer dialogue, as students will not have to go through the “trans 101” before getting into their personal situations.

However, as I am aware the implementation of this training will take time, I will create a resource pack available for all staff containing accurate information and guidance on issues impacting trans and non-binary students. I also plan to arrange some informal Q&A sessions for PTs to speak to them face to face and answer any questions they might have.

What is the Dignity and Respect Policy and how would you go about clarifying it?

The Dignity and Respect Policy is the university policy on bullying, harassment and discrimination. It “sets out the expectations placed on all members of the university”.

In section 3 of this policy, it is stated that individuals have a responsibility to “demonstrate respect and integrity in our interactions with individuals and groups.” However, in section 5, the “Resolution” structures only address situations where an individual feels they have been treated unfairly. Additionally, the definitions of bullying, harassment and discrimination provided in the appendix specifically refer only to treatment of individuals.

This phrasing provides a loophole for those who discriminate against groups such as trans and non-binary people more broadly, but have not taken any direct actions against individuals within these groups. This is unacceptable, as it leaves communities open to attack without any clear structures with which to defend themselves.

Finally, is there anything in particular about your manifesto/campaign that you want to draw students’ attention to? What is your favourite policy?

The policies I am most excited about are my plans to bridge the gap between trans and non-binary staff and students, and to make current trans-inclusive policies more readily accessible. There is a wealth of resources at Edinburgh for trans and non-binary people that are underutilised due to lack of advertising and community building efforts. Regular social events involving both staff and students and improved access to information about these policies will allow the community to be stronger, closer, and more active.

 


 

The following is a transcription of Elliot’s responses during the Liberation Candidate’s Question Time which took place on Friday 1 March 2019.

Some answers may have been edited for clarity.

 

I’m Elliot. For those of you who don’t know me, I use he/him pronouns. I’m an undergraduate linguistics student and for the past two years, I’ve been the Trans, Non-binary and Intersex Officer for PrideSoc. I’ve had a lot of experiences in this role, working with students across the university, members of the Students’ Association, the Staff Pride Network, various student societies and attending Student Council meetings. All these skills and experiences greatly apply to the role and would make me an excellent Trans and Non-binary Officer for the Students’ Association.

I have a lot of points, so apologies if I don’t get through them. I’m going to talk about policy. Obviously, the gender-neutral bathrooms thing is a big priority, particularly in areas outside of central campus. I also want to tackle transphobia on campus and various transphobic materials that have been posted across campus. I want to advocate for frequent, regular sweeps of campus by security and maintenance staff so that the documentation and removal of these materials aren’t resting on the shoulders of the students. I also want to change the university Dignity and Respect Policy to prevent gender discrimination against groups, not just against individuals.

I also have a focus on community building, especially in the current climate. You know, community is really important in order to exchange resources and support. While my focus will be on students, I also think it’s really important to include all the trans and non-binary identifying staff, so that there’s a sense of history. And also they’re just really nice! They’re all lovely people, and we should hang out with them more.

And finally, I also want to support staff training, particularly for personal tutors for all the reasons that my colleagues have spoken about. However, I’m also aware of the time and bureaucracy that this kind of training implementation takes. So, as a kind of backstop to that measure, I plan to create a resource pack for all staff that would be available much more quickly. This would mean that they would have information and guidance about trans issues so that even if there isn’t a formal training setting they have information available.

How do you plan to engage students, both who are new to the university and new to this campaigning system, to the campaign?

So, obviously the Trans and Non-binary Campaign is new in and of itself, so all of the students involved will be new to the campaign which is going to be kind of scary, but also, I think, really beneficial because we get to make decisions about how to shape policy for people in the future in a really solid way. But also it’s not entirely from the ground up. I think that the LGBT campaign and also various work done by Kai [current VP Welfare] and other members of the Students’ Association has given a really good foundation for us to build on. I really want to have a lot of transparency in the campaign, so regular events to meet and talk to individuals, some online feedback opportunities, and anonymous feedback opportunities. This would ensure that everyone who wants to be involved and wants to have their say can without feeling like they’re intimidated, or if they’re not out or they don’t feel comfortable coming along to a physical space. I want to make it as easy as possible to get in contact with me or any other member of the team and ask for resources, ask for support, but also ask for changes to be made.

How do you see yourself working alongside other Liberation Officers to ensure that students who experience intersecting oppressions feel welcome in the trans and non-binary campaign?

Intersectionality is very important to me. I have various privileges that I know I need to be aware of and acknowledge. I plan to work closely with all the other Liberation Officers. Obviously, the LGBT campaign and the trans campaign will necessarily want to work together closely because we have similar goals, but I think all of the Liberation Campaigns have very similar goals. There’s not really much point running a campaign, a trans campaign, that isn’t accessible to everyone. So many things feed into each other. Misogyny and transphobia and homophobia and racism and ableism all feed into the same ideology that is harmful to all of us. So I want to put together a diverse team on the trans campaign to make sure that we have people who are there all the time making sure that everything is done to help and support the other campaigns that are going on. I don’t think there’s a point in running one if you aren’t going to support each other.

How would you mark and celebrate important days for the trans community, such as Trans Day of Remembrance

I would really want to have community-focused events. Last year for Trans Remembrance Day I worked with the Staff Pride Network to get an event in Teviot which was really lovely – and I did cry! I think it was a really successful model that I want to build on involving the whole community of the student body, but also staff, and potentially expanding out into the trans community within Edinburgh as a whole. I would like to provide spaces for people to come together from all over Edinburgh to celebrate and have a good time in a space that is comfortable and safe and where they will be accepted and celebrated.

How do you plan to work with societies and student groups to get more people involved in the trans and non-binary campaign?

So, with this one, the fact that the trans community is so diverse is really important. I want to approach a variety of student groups to get involved in the campaign, but also to try and help them to become more inclusive for trans students. You know, in places like sports teams et cetera, and also academic societies, it’s really important that trans students get the same opportunities as everybody else. We need to make sure those spaces have the information that they need and will work with us to foster a culture of inclusivity for trans students. Also, I’d like to capitalise on groups that are already engaged and really interested. So PrideSoc, obviously, is the go-to, but other various political or campaign based societies. I’ve had some wonderful experiences working with groups such as the Amnesty International Society who were really keen to work with us and wanted to help us with all the transphobic stickering that’s been going on but just didn’t know how. I’d like to reach out to those groups and get them involved.

How would you ensure that trans and non-binary students felt comfortable and safe on campus given the rise in visible transphobia?

Two points: One, I would like to make it less visible through, as I’ve said, having the security and maintenance staff coming much more regularly to remove transphobic materials so that burden isn’t on students. You don’t want to walk on campus and discover “ugh, there’s another batch, I guess I’ll go round and take them all off.” You know, “do I have the stickers on my backpack”. It’s exhausting, you shouldn’t have to put up with that, staff should be doing it.

Also, I want to make opposition to transphobia more visible. We’ve had some lukewarm statements from the university about how transphobia isn’t acceptable. I really want to make sure there’s a much more firm stance from the university. I will be harassing Peter Mathieson about them on a daily basis until it gets done. I also want to continue the policies that the Students’ Association has in place to make sure it’s very clear that it’s absolutely unacceptable in the Students’ Association’s spaces, which I think has been very successful so far.

What experience do you have of organising within trans and non-binary spaces and addressing issues affecting those student groups?

I have a lot of experience. I’ve been lucky enough to be the Trans, Non-binary and Intersex Officer for PrideSoc for the past two years which has allowed me to work with the LGBT community more widely, but also with trans and non-binary students specifically, organising regular events every week but also more specialised events such as the Trans Day of Remembrance that I mentioned. From that I have a great deal of skill: I know how the room booking system works, I know what times are good for hosting events and what times nobody ever wants to turn up for, and you’re just sitting in a room by yourself like “I guess this wasn’t a good choice!” You know, I know how to market things on social media and I also know how to receive feedback and listen to what’s being said and make sure that everybody is getting their voice heard and is being provided with a space that works for them

What is one concrete thing that the university should do to improve the lives of trans and non-binary students?

Just one?! I think tackling the transphobia on campus is a really big deal, and we’ve talked about it a lot, so I’m going to talk about the bathrooms instead, particularly bathrooms on campuses that aren’t central campus. I know King’s has, I think, two gender-neutral bathrooms that I know about. If you’ve ever been there, it’s huge, there are so many buildings, and that’s ridiculous. So we need to try to push that much more. Also, sports facilities. While Pleasance has a lovely gender-neutral changing room, the King’s sports facilities are set up so you just can’t even get in unless you through a gendered changing room, which is just ridiculous, so I’d want to continue to push that. Obviously, if you can’t use the bathroom you can’t be in public, and there should be nothing standing in the way of trans and non-binary students accessing public facilities that are available as part of the university. It’s just unacceptable.

 

Image: Anna Asher

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