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Open letter by Union ex-Treasurer alleges Union transphobia

Defeated Oxford Union Presidential candidate and out-going Treasurer Zuleyka Shahin has published an open letter detailing her experiences of the term’s campaign and levelling accusations of transphobia and racism against members of the Union.

Published on her Facebook page, the letter was entitled, “An Open Letter: Some Truths You Do Not Know” and detailed alleged transphobic abuse written on spoilt Union ballots, as well as alleged smear campaigns.

Speaking about an allegedly negative campaign run against her, Shahin said, “1055 people did not vote because they were inspired by Mr Webber [Stuart Webber, Shahin’s rival candidate]; I believe a majority of them voted because they opposed the monster I was made out to be. A very successful smear campaign was launched, weaving a web of hate and lies. This is the game of politics, but it is a game I do not have to continue to subject myself to.

“I chose the moral high ground and because of it I lost. I wasn’t about to engage in an election of mud slinging and dirt. Our campaign focused on what we could do. The members did not wish to see my team or I take that leading role and I fully accept that.”

She added, “When STEP sat down in a room, they must’ve said, ‘How do we get everyone to hate this woman?’ and, like the real world of politics and power, called up all their friends in the media to begin churning out the stories.

“There is evidence out there of candidates for Officership from STEP sending screenshots themselves, directly to the newspapers in question. Some papers even refused to print this mess. And they must have thought, ‘If we can get everyone to turn on her – a trans woman of colour who a lot of people in Oxford like – we can do anything!’”

Screenshots of messages sent between members of Shahin’s slate appeared in a VERSA article last week entitled, “Scrutiny report: all the drama, deception and juicy detail of BOTH Union slates”.

Shahin further claimed that ballot papers had been spoiled with transphobic abuse, saying, “To those people who spoilt their ballots with Transphobic abuse, thank you. Thank you for exposing the Oxford Union and Oxford University for what it really is. To those who wrote things like ‘MAN’ next to my name, thank you. You are gutless and spineless.

“To those who drew pictures and wrote whole sentences about how much you despise my transgendered being, I wish you had the courage to come out and say it to my face. It says even more about the Union that people want to focus on what I did ‘wrong’, what I did during elections and whether I brought Rocky and NOT the transphobic hate written on those spoilt ballots. Transphobic hate that was so prevalent, those in the count gave up reading them out loud in the interest of time. This is the Union I belong to. This is what cut me the most.”

According to Union rules, all messages written on the back of ballot papers must be read aloud by Deputy Returning Officers conducting the count. The count is held in camera and as such the Returning Officer was unable to comment.

She added, “To those of you who sat on benches, in parks and quads discussing my “blackness” my gender or my identity, you succeeded in keeping your life basic. Trust me, the last thing you want to be in the Union is black and trans.”

She further expressed fears over tactics used during the campaign period. “I did not eat my food in the Union for the last few weeks because as history has shown, a ‘roofie’ in a drink is not uncommon during election season.”

Other issues addressed included the furore around A$AP Rocky talking at the Union, for which Shahin claimed, “I brought Rocky. Simple. I know it, you know it, the Union knows it. It took 12 weeks of negotiations. The powers that be are on tape in Scrunity, despite my having sponsorship in place, saying that ‘A$AP Rocky will NOT be coming to the Union’.

“And so I looked to other alternatives, hence Christ Church and the event page. Some white people, who didn’t know who he was, saw the page, saw the hype, panicked, and tried to get him back. Nothing was ‘leaked’.

“We stood in the room that night, having drinks with Rocky, many people of colour circling around him, engaging in free flowing and fun conversation. And the powers that be stood in the corner, their faces contorted in confusion. But a part of them got it. That this nobody black boy with a $ sign in his name means something to somebody.”

The letter closed, “I wish everyone the very best and remind everyone to stop and think about our value as humans. Compassion is a quality in a human that is so rare. This election has taught me that much, if nothing else. Finally, I am pleased to say.. I don’t live here anymore.”

At the time of publication, the post had received over 140 likes.

Shahin, Webber and Union President Olivia Merrett have been approached for comment.

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