UCD students have exercised their democratic rights and impeached their Students’ Union president. In doing so they have garnered media attention and confusion from the wider public. Some may think that UCD students have shot themselves in the foot and impeached a president just because she wishes to follow the law. However, there were reasons for impeachment that appeared before she got in the door.
If you were listening to the Fight4Katie campaign you might also believe UCD students voted incorrectly. At this time it may be suggested that you avoid reading the articles of columnists who are part of the IONA institute. This is not to suggest that you should stick to one source alone for your news, as Ascough might wish. The University Observer and the College Tribune have not published lies about Katie Ascough nor have the sabbatical officers, or the impeachment campaign bullied her. Neither a small, nor a large group of bullies, impeached her. The students of UCD were treated to two different sides of a story.
However, many people inside and outside of UCD are not aware of the issues that made some students wary of her position as president from the beginning. Katie Ascough may not be her parents, but their position within the IONA institute should be a cause for concern to anyone. The IONA institute has campaigned against marriage equality and for saving the eighth. They have previously opposed civil partnerships and the possibility of the scrapping of the clause in the Employment Equality Act 2000 that allows religious institutions to discriminate against staff who do not uphold their religious ethos. Those involved in student politics should denounce any connection to such an institution if they wish to represent all students.
Ascough herself has not been as public in her views as the institute. Nevertheless, she has canvassed against equal marriage in the past.
For many LGBT+ young people university is the place where they feel comfortable enough to finally come out. It is a place where many know that they can be accepted after hiding their sexual orientation or gender for so many years. The average LGB person figures out their orientation in their early teenage years, for trans people this may come even younger. Secondary schools in this country are not a comfortable place to be open about who you are or whom you are attracted to. However, when you stumble into UCD and see the LGBTQ+ Society standing proudly like any other society in the Freshers’ tent you can feel a little more comfortable, even if you are too scared to approach them.
The Students’ Union, unlike the LGBTQ+ Society, can bring this feeling of acceptance from the niche to the mainstream. The pride flag that greets you as you enter the SU corridor lets people know that all are welcome here.
LGBT+ youths are much more likely to struggle with their mental health and experience higher rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicide than the wider population. Depression, anxiety, and stress are at their most extreme for LGBT+ people under 35. According to research carried out by the HSE, 35% of the 2264 LGBTI people surveyed had self-harmed in their lifetime, with this percentage increasing to 55.7% for those aged 14-18. This means that young LGBT+ people may find themselves relying more heavily on their Students’ Union, and particularly the Welfare Officer than other students.
Katie Ascough was not the Welfare Officer but she was head of the union and having someone at the head who does not support marriage equality does not endear you to visit the Welfare Officer nor does it make you feel accepted at UCD.
At the end of the day, despite her claims Ascough did not represent all students. Respecting all viewpoints is not a way of saying you respect or accept members of the LGBT+ community. Being LGBT+ is not a viewpoint; it is who someone is.
Contrary to some national media she was not bullied out of office. Ascough was democratically removed by a student populace who felt she did not represent them and their views, she was impeached by students who felt she was not the person they wanted leading their Student’s Union.