ERIN HUDSON – THE MCGILL DAILY
Tensions arose Tuesday at Queer McGill’s (QM) general assembly as the group attempted to pass a constitutional amendment mandating them to boycott international bodies and institutions they consider to be oppressive.
Many of those who opposed the amendment – which was voted down 26 to 24 – saw it as a veiled attack on Israel, although QM Treasurer Kevin Paul explained that the amendment had a wide scope.
“We did not want to single out any particular conflict, nation, state,” Paul said. He added that it was not an endorsement of the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
SSMU speaker Cathal Rooney-Céspedes voiced his opposition to the amendment at the meeting, and explained that he viewed it as a politicization of a SSMU club on the “wholly decisive issue” of Israel-Palestine.
“I would really hate for someone – if QM were to take a stance against Israel – of Israeli descent and who is looking for a community of LGBT to not feel welcome in QM because of the stances they take external to queer politics,” he said.
The text of the motion read, “Queer McGill resolves to adopt financial practices that oppose international state oppression. … Queer McGill shall limit the definition of bodies that fund state oppression to corporations and institutions which directly, or through the redirection of their profits by primary stakeholders, contribute, financially or through sharing of resources, to the official practices of an oppressive regime or its agents.”
According to QM co-administrator Ryan Thom, the amendment was controversial among the QM community, and he had expected it to be “debated hotly.”
Thom asserted that the GA lost its traditional informality when Rooney-Céspedes demanded the meeting adhere to a strict version of Robert’s Rules.
“QM runs on a very informal basis,” he said, and only nominally adheres to Robert’s Rules.
“I think what was lost was our ability to communicate with each other in a non-hierarchical fashion,” said Thom. “To identify as queer and then walk into a queer general assembly – that is a powerful symbolic gesture and that was threatened. I think that’s why we saw people crying and reacting so strongly.”
“It angers and frustrates me to see constituents looking so upset, expressing such discontent, such disenfranchisement,” he added.
Rooney-Céspedes spoke to the outcome of the assembly and his view on QM’s proposed amendment.
“I truly do regret the way that I made people feel but I don’t regret fighting for something that I feel so strongly about,” said Rooney-Céspedes.
He said he felt that without rules to govern the meeting, it would have degenerated into a free-for-all.
“I think that when you’re debating contentious issues there needs to be an order to the way that things are done,” he said.
“If you don’t know or if you’re not as aware of the rules then it can come off as intimidating – and I do sympathize with that. Otherwise I think that it was a very well-run debate with all things considered,” said Rooney-Céspedes.
The issue was raised again at SSMU Council on Thursday night, which was the final council meeting of the school year. VP External Myriam Zaidi prepared a letter regarding the events at Tuesday’s assembly and her recommendations for the response of SSMU Council.
“In my letter I was urging the Speaker of Council to write an apology letter,” said Zaidi. “I feel like there was a lack of accountability.”
Zaidi did not finish reading her letter due to interruptions.
Thom then addressed Council on behalf of QM. After hearing his speech, the councillors ruled to issue a statement reaffirming their commitment to safe space on campus.
Thom said he would have liked to see a more supportive declaration.
“I had thought that SSMU was a powerful and strong space for promoting QM’s existence,” he said. “It’s just sad that the idea of protecting our space from people who should be protecting us.”
Zaidi noted her disappointment that some members of Council did not recognize the problematic nature of the events at the meeting.
“They apologized for people feeling uncomfortable but not for the events. If you’re going to go saying things that are patronizing, [it’s better] not to say anything,” she said.
Zaidi added that she was emotionally affected by Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s extremely unacceptable,” she said.
Rooney-Céspedes said that his job as Speaker did not prevent him from participating in political debates outside of SSMU Council. After leaving Council Thursday night, however, he said he intended to write letters of apology.