Friday, March 6, 2009

was the presidential election a set-up?

click to see a breakdown of the election resultsIt was a situation that would warm Slavoj Žižek's heart - more of which later.

The event of the title was the Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) Cross-Campus Election 2009, where various candidates stood for offices in the aforementioned union, and the newsworthy part was the (initially) two-horse race for the presidential election.

I first heard about this normally cloistered affair when an article by John Downing appeared in the Cambridge NeGuolong Li - I loved his biography!ws, entitled "Gays need help to be normal, says student". As I mulled the question of whether students who aspire to office need help to be normal themselves (while studying at the University of Edinburgh Gordon Brown was appointed Rector, for Pete's sake), I read on: of the two candidates, Tom Chigbo and Guolong Li, the latter had stated during a hustings meeting that he thought it important "to persuade [lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people] to be normal, to no longer be LBGT - to change them".

I'm not sure how "normal" it is for University staff to put opinions on record about a CUSU presidential election while it's happening, but the senior tutor at Churchill College, Richard Partington, stated:

The college regards Guolong Li's comments about LBGT students as unacceptable and repudiates them. We know that Guolong has withdrawn from the presidential election, and would regard that as appropriate.
Both The Cambridge Student Online and "The Independent Cambridge Student Newspaper" Varsity concentrate on the section of the recorded hustings concerning the LGBT comments and tell the reader where to proceed to in the viewer, but personally I found the whole 40-minute recording (of which the LGBT section occupied about 4½ minutes) interesting.

For example, while both candidates stated their wish to reduce union contributions and encourage the sporting activities for which the uni is famous, most notably the Boat Race against Oxford, Guolong wished the various colleges of which the uni is composed to share existing facilities, whereas Chigbo proposed that a new sports centre be built. When invited to criticise his opponent Guolong initially refused, saying he wanted a "gentleman's election", even though Chigbo had earlier called him "disingenuous or stupid" - then ruled himself out of one of these categories by asserting that one of Guolong's slogans, "hakuna matata" was a meaningless line from the Lion King (it's Swahili for "no worries": keep this man out of the University Challenge team). And tellingly, Guolong stated, in his introductory speech, his wish to democratise the union by having it run by students and not merely officers.

This being a matter pertaining to tertiary education, Guolong possibly fanned the flames against himself when he said he was a Christian. During his introductory speech he pulled his Bible out to justify "hakuna matata" by asking: "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life" (Matt 6:27/Lk 12:25)? The second occasion was to justify his stance on LGBT's - who he declined to condemn - when he quoted Matthew 8:12 about a shepherd leaving 99 of his charges to find the lost sheep. In the reportage I've seen, it's not been clear if the offence taken was because Guolong believes sexual orientation can change, or because he was happy to aver his faith in a public place.

In fact, in 1997, a survey found that having been sexually abused in childhood predisposed men to have more lifetime male partners, and other surveys have found similar results. But you don't have to go to those extremes to find sexual orientation changing - David Bowie's sexualityFreddie Mercury was like the English weather before he eventually declared himself a "closet heterosexual". More sadly, Freddie Mercury, who famously declared himself to be "as gay as a daffodil", sang in his dying says about the joys of living vicariously "through your kids"- an admission of regret for breaking up his long-term relationship with Mary Austin to pursue pleasures in bathhouses?

Perhaps contumely was dropped upon Guolong for using the word "normal" in relation to sexual matters, which has been a battlefield in recent national politics. Towards the end of February, children's minister Beverly Hughes launched a government leaflet declaring that parents who try to "convince [children] of what's right and wrong may discourage them from being open" in sex education. Furthermore, Labour's flight from normality has left us afraid to cuff the ears of young thugs, prevent drug-dealers from selling heroin to one's family,Oscar Wilde's gay pride: his set used to imitate the droop of flowers with a 'limp wrist' - hence Freddie Mercury's 'gay as a daffodil' remarkand has given the University of Cambridge a CUSU president who, despite being limited to spending £40 on his campaign, has been able to take advantage of the sort of publicity Simon Cowell can only dream of through vilification of views his opponent, according to a friend, has freely expressed for two years.

I mentioned Slavoj Žižek at the start. He's a planetoid in the marxist firmament who has been called "the Elvis of cultural theory", but I'm not sure how he'd manage lecturing in a jumpsuit and cuban heels. He states in an essay called The Ongoing "Soft Revolution" that to attack diversity is "focusing on a figure of capitalism whose days are numbered".

What he is saying is that "diversity" - for our purposes concerning sexual orientation - is no longer about ensuring that the characteristics of an organisation match those of the population it serves: it is about implanting within academia, thence wider society, a clerisy of sociopathic activists who do not represent average gay people any more than they do heterosexuals, and who perhaps affix too much significance to their patent leather jackboots.

If it were not so, certain staff of the University of Cambridge and CUSU would be unafraid of letting students make their own mind up about Guolong Li in a fair election.

Cambridge University Students Union Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Campaign

Related post: Homosexism: suffer the little children

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