students meet on gay rights
EDINBURGH: This day meeting was arranged by the Scottish Office of
the National Union of Students as the result of a regional conference
resolution in Dundee on the question of gay rights and the NUS campaign.
The venue was Heriot-Watt Students’ Union, Grindlay Street,
Perhaps the sharpest disappointment for the organisers was the low
turnout--at its peak only 25 people were present. This was due mainly
to the time of year (May is exams month), and partly due to what
can only be described as ‘low prioritisation’. In other
words, people just don’t see gay rights as a very important
issue just now, at least as far as Scotland is concerned.
Because of the small numbers, it was widely decided to adjourn to
the nearest coffee house for a more informal start to the seminar.
Stuart Paul, Deputy President, NUS, opened discussions with a description
of the NUS gay rights campaign. Stuart, well-known as a student politician
here in Edinburgh (he was President of Heriot-Watt Students 197 11972),
told his audience: “I don’t know as much as you do about
the-situation of gay people.” In saying this, Stuart was only
speaking the truth--he is not gay and is only obliquely connected
with the gay rights campaign. - - -
Mike Foreman, President of Edinburgh University Gay Group, described
the particular problems encountered in setting up a Gaysoc in Scotland.
The Edinburgh Students have persuaded their Students’ Association
to hand over the brief of the NUS gay rights campaign to the local
group. It is to be hoped that this move will not lead to massive
apathy on the part of the Students’ Association. After the
seminar, gathered from Mike that he is considering a draft of an
amended version of the NUS ‘How to Set Up a Gaysoc’.
Mike wants to concentrate on how to keep a Gaysoc alive and self-sustaining.
I stepped in to speak for Ian Christie on the topic o. ‘The
Law’. I hope I managed to avoid a tedious resume on ‘How
SMG Drafted Its Bill’. My main aim was to outline some of the
tactics we in Scotland are using in order to win measurable social
and legal advances. Stuart Paul and David Dancer contributed to the
following discussion. There was a natural bias towards young homosexual
men at this part of the seminar. - David Dancer covered a great deal
ground. He is waging an almost single-handed campaign, it seems.
As Coordinator of the National Colleges of Education Gay Rights Campaign,
he sustains a most pleasant approach, though one or two present thought
his hopes were perhaps pitched a bit too high. But then David is
one of a still relatively small number of gay activists in Britain
who have come out the tough way, and this has naturally led to an
optimistic frame of mind about what social and structural changes
are immediately possible. David also mentioned that there had been
a shake-up in some of the Church of England Colleges as a result
ofthe Archbishop of York’s statement about the numbers of priests
who were homosexual. At the colleges in question, there had been
as many as 25% of trainee priests who had been refused ordination.
Bob Thomson, the final speaker, gave a more or less personal statement
on the position of minorities in Scotland. Bob is the tireless secretary
for the Council of Civil liberties in Scotland. It was a great pity
that most people had drifted away by this time.
In short, this was a most worthwhile attempt by NUS in Scotland to
further their gay rights campaign. The small attendance should only
spur NUS to hold a follow-up seminar, possibly in Glasgow., next
year, and at a more appropriate time of the year. Unless NUS circulate
all Scottish Unions with a report on this seminar, colleges will
remain in ignorance of what was discussed. I noticed Neil Robertson,
Vice-President of Strathclyde Students, Yvonne Strachan from Aberdeen,
Margaret Wallace from NUS Staff in London, a representative from
Notre Dame College of Education in Gflisgow and someone from St Andrews.
Well, big trees from little acorns grow.. . provided NUS willhelp
to till the soil!
Equal means sixteen
MALVERN: At this years 750-strong annual gathering, Campaign for
Homosexual Equality members stamped and cheered their wholehearted
support for demands to lower the age of consent to 16.
But lowering the age of consent was only one of several sweeping
changes proposed by the organisations Law Reform Commission. Recommended
reforms of nineteenth-century Irish and Scottish laws were just
as enthusiastically received. And members pledged themselves to
fight for the repeal of criminal laws against gays in the Armed.
Forces and Merchant Navy.
Only twelve months ago delegates had seemed hopelessly at odds
with one another over their priorities. Many came to Malvern this
year fearing that nothing would be resolved and that law reform
would be shelved for another year.
“But as it turned out,” said one member of the law commission, “everyone
was determined to get agreement and to work bloody hard to get it.”
CHEs Executive Committee now has to get a reform bill drafted in
proper legal form so that the political
battle can start in earnest.
Entering into the spirit of the rally, the EC deleted the clause
asking them to prepare the bill by October 31 this year and promised
conference instead to have it ready by September.
Members of the Scottish Minorities Group had been amongst those
last year who had been bitterly disappointed by the law reform
vote. They had seen it as a failure on the part of CHE to give
practical support to the hard fight Scottish gays had been putting
up. But they were delighted by the way things had gone this time.
In a gesture of solidarity, it was SMG’s Michael Coulson
who introduced the detailed proposals to conference on behalf of
the Law Reform Commission.
When conference was asked to vote on the report, there was not
one single vote against it, and nobody abstained.
With this unanimous mandate, CHE Chairman Michael Steed promised
that all the proposals for immediate legislation would be included
in the draft bill, and that CHE would carry out a fierce and determined
campaign on the basis of the bill.
He pointed out that in introducing any bill into Parliament it
was often necessary to make changes here and there in the light
of negotiations with sponsoring MPs and other interested groups.
But he drew thunderous applause from delegates when he said that
the case for law reform in Ireland would be pressed as far as constitutionally
possible, and that there could be no compromise whatsoever over
demands for Scottish reform and consent at 16.
“We will never support the age of 18,” he promised. “Neither
will we accept dirty deals in the middle of the campaign.” These
particular demands were simply not matters for negotiation.
For details of the proposals, see story
page 5 — New Sex Laws.