NTEU and Transphobia

Edited 7:20pm 5/12: Added email from Amy to councillors (with her permission) Edited 7:40pm 5/12: Remembered another excuse and it's a doozy, so adding it. Edited 9:20pm 5/12: Fixing some text that was in angle brackets and didn't parse correctly (on why the NTEU Exec can't publicly support trans people) Edited 5:20pm 7/12: Changed naming of some dates below (from 3/12 to Dec 3rd).

I was at the National Council meeting, and I feel like I need to write about what I saw/experienced, and how poor it was. It’s been almost 24h and I’m still angry, in part because of what bullshit the NTEU National office is putting out online in response to the cries from their members at what they’re doing.

First, about me: My name is Eric Stacey. I am VP – General Staff at the Deakin University Branch of the NTEU. I am also a National Councillor – General Staff. This also means I am a councillor on the Victoria Division. I am not part of QUTE, just an ally (or at least I think I am, they haven’t told me to shut up yet!) I am also a Senior Systems Administrator in my day job, not a writer, so please excuse bad sentence structure/etc in the below. I rarely write, and I’m angry, so there may be some errors. Plus this is the second time I’m typing this because I lost the original draft. Rookie mistake.

I know nothing about deep organising. I have two of Jane McAlevey’s books on my shelf and have read neither. I also have no real strong understanding of theory/etc, I’m just perceiving what I see. I’m not being proud in my ignorance on this, but I sometimes think people will dive into theory/etc as a reason to back up their terrible views.

I have been to two National Councils where motions were discussed/voted on. They’re supposed to be yearly meetings in/around October, but NTEU National Exec didn’t want to do it then because of reasons, so it got pushed to December this year. Last year’s National Council was eye-opening, with everything National Exec wanted getting passed with a 70-80% majority. This year’s was more of the same, although the ratios were closer to 50-50. Maybe in another couple years we’ll be able to actually do good stuff in the union.

If you don’t know about QUTE, they are the Queer Unionists in Tertiary Education group in the NTEU. I’ll take a description from their official website.

QUTE is a network of members and staff of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) who are actively engaged in addressing the issues facing workers of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics in the higher education industry and within the Union.

They’ve been around for a while, and have fought some real battles. I believe their previous leader was a “gender critical” feminist, and they were finally able to oust her. It speaks to the union’s terrible and antiquated views as a whole, though, and I’ve seen some of that treatment first hand just being in meetings. They are pepetually ignored or included as an after-thought or token “look at us” move by National Exec. I’ve also seen National Exec say they support QUTE members, but they can’t publicly because [bad reasons]. I admire the QUTE members that stick with the union.

To the motion. This next part I have no first hand knowledge of. I am only piecing together what I’ve heard/been told, so please take this with a huge grain of salt. It’s here to set the stage, but is not the core of what I’m going to write about. As I understand it, due to the above mentioned mis-treatment of QUTE and queer members in general, QUTE put together a motion to increase recognition and have the NTEU’s policy manual updated to have stronger support for LGBTQIA+ people. This included calling out “gender critical”, which WAS a legit thing but has been co-opted by transphobes (particularly in the UK) to question the right of trans people to exist, among other things. The UK is a terrible place of hatred, and their “methods” of handling trans people should not be spread anywhere else. This motion seeked to do that. Apparently QUTE spent a long time crafting and perfecting the motion. Then the National Exec got involved. They went back and forth with QUTE, trying to get “gender critical” removed. Apparently during this, QUTE was warned if they didn’t change the motion to remove “gender critical” references, an amendment would be put during National Council. QUTE stuck to their motion in its original form (as they should have).

This is where I am involved. National Council’s meeting was all day Friday (Dec 3rd) and Saturday (Dec 4th). A few weeks before, draft motions were (mostly) in place, so Vic Division met to discuss them. No decisions are made here, the meeting was just for councillors to discuss the motions, ask questions, vaguelly debate about them, etc. In a lot of cases the mover or seconder of the motion is there to answer questions. The QUTE motion (I think titled “Changes to NTEU Policy Manual Section 6. Replaces ‘NTEU SUPPORT OF RIGHTS OF PEOPLE OF DIVERSE SEXUALITIES, SEX CHARACTERISTICS AND GENDERS’, LGBTIQ+ EQALITY, and INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE sections”) was there, no amendment was. As far as I remember there was some minor debate about it, but nothing too serious.

Thursday arvo (Dec 2nd), we (I believe all of Vic Division) get an email from QUTE leader Amy Sargeant saying QUTE have found the amendment in the motions folder, were not informed by National Exec (of course, pretty standard now), and asking us to reject the amendment. The email is below:

Dear National Councillors,

The NTEU’s Queer Unionists in Tertiery Education (QUTE) membership has been working on a motion for National Council for many months in consultation with hundreds of LGBTQIA+ members across the country.

We are writing to you as National Councillors to ask that you oppose a proposed amendment to our motion, which is scheduled to be discussed this Saturday of National Council.

The NTEU’s General Secretary, Matthew McGowan, has proposed amendments to the motion without consulting QUTE, which will remove any mention of the words ‘gender critical’ or references to ‘gender critical’ ideology (transphobia).

All contributors to our motion steadfastly supported specifically naming ‘gender critical’ ideology as the term under which transphobes operate in academic spaces. This is, without question, the most important aspect of our motion.

‘Gender critical’ is a euphemism used to cloak transphobia by those who don’t want trans people to have equal rights. ‘Gender critical’ ideology is fundamentally transphobia; there are no ‘gender critical’ beliefs/ideas that are not transphobic in nature. It is not a legitimate or recognised field of research, though it seeks to masquerade as one. It is important to specifically call out ‘gender critical’ beliefs as this is the term under which transphobia in tertiary spaces organises.

Transphobes operating in academic spaces claim they are not transphobic, and that their bigotry is simply ‘questioning’ accepted scientific understanding about trans people. This is no different to how many outspoken racists refuse to adopt the label of racist, instead insisting they are simply ‘asking questions’ about the differences between races. Neither of these are acceptable.

The current climate in the NTEU for trans members is dire: I am contacted so often by trans academics who feel the National Executive is not prepared to openly speak up in support of trans members. The reason I am the Convenor of QUTE today is specifically because of gender critical activity in our union. If this amendment were to pass at National Council, it would cause great distress to trans members around the country, and shamefully reflect our union in the public eye.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any queries about this.

Best wishes, Amy

During Friday’s National Council meeting, the Vic Division President forwards an email from Baden Offord AO. They are also strongly against the amendment, and list the way “gender critical” and the legitimisation of it is extremely harmful to trans people. After that there were some replies from a couple people. One was a person who didn’t really know about “gender critical”, but was worried about saying it’s bad. The other was the seconder of the amendment, who obviously was for it. We traded emails back and forth (with the whole group) but no decisions were made.

Finally, on Saurday afternoon, the motion and amendment come up for debate. I was surprised, but they actually let Amy Sargeant (again, leader of QUTE) come on and speak to the motion. She did great. Then the amendment got announced. During this, every excuse they could think of gets rolled out (these are summed up quotes, not direct):

I have to admit: I almost fell off my chair when I heard that last one. For anyone who doesn’t know, Holly Lawford-Smith is a “gender critical” lecturer at a Melbourne uni. She runs a website that lets people anonymously write hate speech against trans people, because that’s what TERFs are. That’s what people think we, as a union, should support.

Of the other excuses, the original motion deftly handled the excuses even before they were thrown in, but it doesn’t matter.. it was all about bad faith arguments. The first two in that list though… step up to the plate you weak bastards. You can’t crow about how good you are privately then go out and promote hatred. I mean, I guess you can but you’re a shitcunt for it.

Anyway, there were a heap of arguments for and against, and the speaker list was easily filled. As you probably know now, the amendment passed, something like 50 for to 30 against and 10ish abstensions. I’m not sure.. those numbers aren’t right. Of course as far as I know the names/numbers are all kept privately and there’s no way to verify it. The amended motion passes. Transphobes everywhere pat themselves on the back.

Those are the events, so lets go into what’s up with the NTEU National Exec, both overall and in relation to how they treat QUTE and other minority groups/people.

NTEU National Exec is an exceedingly insular group, making decisions to the detriment of the union and forcing them through. We saw it happen last year with the Job Protection Framework, but from my experience it’s just a status quo thing for council meetings. This seems to be done a few ways (again these are all my view):

  1. Blindsiding: For example, the amendment above that got put in with no fanfare or mention to the people in charge of the motion being amended.

  2. Hiding knowledge: Lots of new councillors tried to put in motions the NTEU didn’t like. They conveniently didn’t tell the submitters they did them incorrectly until Friday morning when it was too late to fix them.

  3. Hiding knowledge 2: They know the rulebook up and down, and know how to use and abuse those rules.

  4. Pre-empting: They put their motions in first to get them in before a later submitted motion is discussed, and then say the earlier passed motion means the later submitted one isn’t do-able

  5. Voting times: Voting times for the motions seemed to be all over the place, and only part of the time (probably when they were losing as they could see the totals live while we couldn’t) would they say “we’re closing in 30 seconds” or something. Always weird when they’d suddenly close and a motion they didn’t like would lose 48 (for) to 54 (against). Maybe it’s just democracy in action, but every single motion they liked got up and every single one they didn’t went down, and they controlled voting times.

  6. Secrecy: All we got were vote numbers, and there’s zero verficiation (unless they release the data).

  7. Timings: I wasn’t timing, but whenever the General Secretary wanted to weigh in he’d go on for a while and never got the bell or muted. Everyone else would, of course.

  8. Massaging: Speaking of the General Secretary, quite a few times he’d step in to just “give a note” and we’d get some form of his view of it, quite biased. This was different than normal for/against debate. Outside of National Council he’d attempt to control narrative as well.

  9. Old fashioned politicking: They’d have their allies lined up to speak for, but everyone does that so whatever.

All of those seemed like the most transparent manipulation ever, and it’s weird it doesn’t get mentioned more. So I honestly don’t know if the amendment passed, or anything else, for that matter. It’s worth saying here that these are all my opinion and may not be true or prove-able, and I am very biased, so it’s possible there’s absolutely nothing here.

When I sat down to write this post I saw a previous post I didn’t actually publish, which was about the NTEU and how they handled the Dr. Chelsea Watego situation (NTEU abandoned her in court or fairwork or whatever when they decided they couldn’t win. They denied that’s how it happened). I’ll post that after I post this and link to it here. Anyway, it has only been a couple months, but I was surprised to read it and see the same ideas coming through: the NTEU, at least at the National level, does not support people it sees as minorities. I’m sure they do it because there’s only so much money and blah blah blah (coincidentally a motion about rationalising the exec salaries got knocked back this National Council meeting), but the fact is all they’re doing is hurting the union when they don’t stand up for people like Dr. Watego and QUTE members. And they do it REPEATEDLY. When I was searching for the proper form of the following quote, I found this version from a James Bond movie (Goldfinger): Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action. While extreme, I think it gets the point across. They treat their members as lesser-than time and again, and it’s disgusting. Stand up for your people. All of them, all the time.

So there’s a huge distrust of the National Exec, for this and many other reasons (and when one of those reasons is eventually made public you can be sure I’ll have a post about that. It is obscene.) I don’t think it’s just me, I think it’s a lot of “progressive” people in the union who want to help the union grow, as we need to do. This goes beyond having different organising strategies and the lip service National Exec pays to deep organising, it goes to actually respecting the members and treating them as comrades. It goes to them thinking they know better and being condescending. There are members that want to get out there and beat the drum for the union among their workmates and others, and then they see slimy moves done like the one this week, completely disrespecting QUTE, and that flame dies, or goes elsewhere. Why fight for a union that won’t fight for its members? Pretty straight forward prospect.

Div and Branch trust will depend on the division or branch. Some I hear are good, some I hear are bad. I completely trust and respect my Division leadership (well, except one), and love my Branch leadership. They may hate that I post this and possibly cause issues for us. I’m sorry. It is worth saying that I am posting this on my own, not running it past anyone first. So no one in my branch/division knew this is coming. If they had read it they’d probably fix all my terrible grammar first.

Does this mean members should leave the union? I’d say no. As comrades in @CUPUWorkers have said, don’t leave. Fight. Elections for these positions are happening next year, I believe. Besides that, most/all universities will be bargaining their EBA. Join the union now, get a voice in bargaining and get a voice in who controls this union. Will the money be going to protect transphobes: yes, partially. But we can continue to push and in the future hopefully strengthen the policies the NTEU must follow. The money will also go to helping protect all university workers, because as bad as National Exec can be, they’re not the worst thing we’re fighiting.

To sum up: The union had a real chance to be a leader this weekend, and instead showed its whole ass. It’s extremely disappointing (and I can’t imagine how it feels to our trans comrades), but (and again, as a cis straight guy), we don’t leave. We fight the transphobes and don’t let them win in the end. This was just a battle.

Things I’d like to see published (some may be as part of the minutes/etc):