Homer Plessy in Edinburgh

The Student Association of Edinburgh University (EUSA) had a meeting a few hours ago. There were many items on the agenda. One item was a motion by the Humanist Society (a subgroup of the Student Association) to

Commit to disallowing imposed or directed segregation, based on any characteristic, in EUSA buildings or at EUSA events.

The Treasurer of the Humanist Society, Jonathan Ainslie, reports that the motion was heavily voted down. Yes that’s right: down.

Quoting Jonathan:

The Humanist Society submitted a motion to Student Council – EUSA’s policy-setting body – for a ban on imposed or directed segregation on union premises, or at union events.

Voluntary segregation was explicitly permitted. The motion was entitled “Separate but Equal.”

That motion fell heavily, after a number of opposing speeches which either stated or implied that the society’s motivations were racist and Islamophobic.

Here is the whole motion, available on the Society’s Facebook page:

Separate but Equal

What will we do?

  1. Commit to disallowing imposed or directed segregation, based on any characteristic, in EUSA buildings or at EUSA events.
  2. Petition the University of Edinburgh to prohibit imposed or directed segregation in University of Edinburgh buildings or at University of Edinburgh events.
  3. Acknowledge that voluntary non-directed segregation is permissible.
  4. Ask that Universities UK (UUK) clarify their position on segregation.
  5. Ask that the National Union of Students (NUS) clarify their position on segregation.
  6. Publicly endorse and support Stewart Maxwell MSP’s Motion S4M-08419: Universities UK Guidance on Gender Segregation at Scottish Institutes of Higher Education.

What is the background to this?

  1. Universities UK published guidance that gender segregation at events may be appropriate. The NUS claimed that the guidance had their full support, and was drafted with their assistance.
  2. UUK has since retracted their guidance.  The NUS has since distanced itself from “endorsement” of enforced segregation, but is yet to express opposition to the idea.
  3. Students Rights has noted that at least 40 gender-segregated events took place within a one year period, at 21 higher education institutions in the UK. At one such event, a purely academic debate on Islam and atheism, despite prior assurances to the contrary, three audience members were ejected for refusing to comply with enforced gender segregation.
  4. Segregation on racial grounds is illegal, as noted by Universities UK.
  5. EUSA operates a Zero Tolerance policy towards discrimination based on gender and gender identity.
  6. Gender segregation requires that trans* and non-binary individuals identify themselves publicly.

The UK Supreme Court deputy president recently ruled that, “To permit someone to discriminate on the ground that he did not believe that persons of homosexual orientation should be treated equally with persons of heterosexual orientation would be to create a class of people who were

  1. exempt from discrimination legislation.”  Allowing imposed gender segregation would similarly create a class of people exempt from discrimination legislation.
  2. Stewart Maxwell MSP has lodged a Scottish Parliament motion opposing segregation in universities.  Michael Gove MP has called the guidance “wrong and harmful”.

What beliefs motivate the actions you propose?

  1. That EUSA should be pro-active in tackling issues of concern.
  2. That segregation as originally recommended by Universities UK is anathema to the principles of equality, and should not be tolerated.
  3. That “separate but equal” is a pernicious doctrine.
  4. That preventing a person or persons from oppressing others is not oppression itself.
  5. That religiously-motivated discrimination is no more deserving of respect or toleration than is politically-motivated discrimination.
  6. Gender segregation is no more acceptable than would be racial segregation.
  7. If segregation is enforced by gender, the case against segregation by race, religion, sexual orientation and disability has been profoundly weakened.

[Update to include amendment I omitted for no special reason]
Amendment 1 (Proposer: Kirsty Haigh)

Amend ‘What will we do?’ point 1 to read:

1. Commit to disallowing imposed or directed segregation, based on any characteristic, in EUSA buildings or at EUSA events with the exception of:
1.1 toilets and changing rooms
1.2 liberation groups who wish to exclude those who do not self-identify into that particular group

With a list of signatories at the end.

Voted down. In Edinburgh of all places. Hume’s statue will haunt their dreams.

Major thanks to Helen Dale for this.


  1. Mike84 says

    If you want to live in a society that segregates groups of people based on their genitalia then I suggest you move to Saudi Arabia.
    I can’t believe that this is even open for discussion in 21st century Britain. Females have been regarded as equal now for over a century. I will not allow our great nation to fall back a couple of centuries just to appease some religious bigots who have an unhealthy dislike for women.

  2. wayneturner says

    The older I get the more militant I become about opposing accommodationist sentiments. Where the majority afraid of some form of retaliation? Certainly the supporting language makes sense.

  3. says

    Acknowledge that voluntary non-directed segregation is permissible.

    Shouldn’t that have taken care of the not wanting to be Islamaphobic?

    What’s next? Racial segregation because they don’t want to offend the KKK’s (or similar UK group) religious beliefs about race?

  4. says

    The EUSA’s decision, in other words:

    * The Humanist Society is racist for saying there should be no segregation of or discrimination based on skin.

    * The Humanist Society is sexist for saying there should be no segregation of or discrimination based on gender.

    * The Humanist Society is islamophobic for not putting a chosen ideology (e.g. religion) above a genetic birth trait (e.g. gender).

    How did people so stupid get into university in the first place? Their parents were rich enough to buy them a place?

  5. says

    Here we go again. How many times does this have to be stated ? Opposing segregation has nothing to do
    with Islamophobia and everything to do with equality. This should be blindingly obvious to anyone but some it seems are not so convinced. I myself am wonderfully placed to deny the accusation of anyone who places it at my feet because I have lived amongst Muslims all my life and have nothing against them as such. So I know I am not being Islamophobic when I oppose segregation. But some on the left do not want to be seen doing this for fear of their motives being misinterpreted. This is in the long run very dangerous because of the slippery slope it invokes. It has to be stopped and stopped now. And accusations of Islamophobia are just meaningless when trying to achieve an equal society. But that is not going to be helped when those who should be our allies are in fact on the opposite side through a misplaced sense of loyalty. This is going to get worse before it gets better unless it is acted on now. Everyone who values equality should speak out against this and not be afraid to either. It is as simple as that. End of

  6. Gary says

    Atrocious display of abject ignorance. I cannot express the dismay I feel at seeing an educational institution of my home country fail so comprehensively at recognising the fundamental equality and freedom which form the foundation of our society. If our university students can’t grasp these ideals, then how can we expect progress on all the serious issues our species faces?

    EUSA – you have failed in your most basic duties – not only should you be ashamed, but you should be removed as you have shown you do not possess the basic intelligence and insight required to perform your function.

  7. Ayl Opk says

    Well, on the plus side EUSA hasn’t yet voted in favour of forced marriage and honour killings. We have that to be thankful for at least.

    As someone who has been personally affected by the dark side of Islam – the putrid underbelly of misogyny and cult-led hate – let me just say that even though this motion was not Islamophobic, I feel there is nothing wrong with Islamophobia. I believe that it is our duty as rationalists and free thinkers to be against something that jeopardises the comparatively liberal society we live in – Islam is a huge threat to that.


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