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Queer Collaborations 2005

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January 3, 2009 by Nick Chinna

Between the 4th and the 8th of July I attended the 15th annual Queer Collaborations student conference, this year held at UWA. The conference is an activist forum for queer (LGBTIQ) university students from across the country. About 220 people attended. While I was a conference newbie (I hate the word 'virgin'), many veterans I spoke too considered this to be one of the more convivial and respectful QCs they had been too, generally striking the right balance between being political without being dogmatic, and passionate without being abusive. The range of student organised plenary sessions, seminars, and workshops was broad, and the organisational side of things ran very smoothly. Kudos to the organising team sourced from WA campus queer collectives.

The overarching theme of this year's conference was 'Queering Gender'. Bad pun aside, this theme provided opportunities for discussion and debate beyond the mere reheating of queer theory orthodoxies. Indeed, what was really good about this conference was the range of different theories, literacies, and experiences that were allowed to co-exist and feed off each other. The first plenary and some of the workshops and seminars were based around the experiences of people who identify as either trans* or intersex, whose perspective is often overlooked even within a queer context. I found it interesting that people who are supposedly at the challenging 'extremes' (sic) of the sex/gender continuum don't always find completely social constructionist frameworks helpful or validating. 'My gender is not a performance' stated a speaker who was born XXY, while a trans* speaker argued that biology could not be completely disavowed. Given that disability studies has long been navigating the union of a social constructionist approach with one that affirms physical materiality, I found the discussion of these issues helpful and affirming.

Issues of 'biphobia' and 'heterophobia' were also addressed throughout the week. Heterophobia within the queer community was a problem for trans* people who identified as heterosexual, and it was also an issue for 'genderqueer' people. Is a guy who wears make-up and unconventional dress but is behaviourally heterosexual entitled to the protection of the campus queer space? There were different views on that one. The issue of 'transphobia' within some feminist circles was also raised. It's always good when an oppressed group has the courage to interrogate oppressive power relations within itself. Some people thought there wasn't enough content specifically for gay men while others thought the conference was not queer enough and too 'gay and lesbian' dominated. But, overall, the general feeling was that the programme was very broad and inclusive.

Queer Collaborations is fundamentally an activist conference. More than half the plenaries, seminars, and workshops were dedicated to activist campaigns and viewpoints. There was probably more Marxist than queer theory. The campaigns against proposed VSU and IR reform lesgislation were a major focus, given the disproportionate effect such changes would have on queer people. If VSU was introduced queer departments would be under even more financial pressure, and guild-funded conferences like QC might not be able to continue. Same-sex marriage was also a major focus. There was a strong argument that even through many in the queer community opposed marriage on the grounds that it was a fundamentally heteronomative institution, and that was a valid opinion, it was something to be fought for in the interests of queer rights. Therefore, the campaign focus was not so much about being pro-marriage as being against the ban on same-sex marriage.

All these campaigns came together as the focus for our final day action. A rally and march was planned for the Friday afternoon. After four days of proposals and negotiations, the theme was 'NO TO VSU, NO TO IR REFORMS AND REPEAL ALL HOMOPHOBIC LAWS'. One hundred and fifty of us gathered in Forest Place without a permit and no prior media release. You see, another action had been organised for the previous night: a same-sex (deliberately male) kiss-in at the Deen Bar in response to a homophobic eviction earlier in the week. So a lot of effort (action meetings, media releases, contacting management) had gone into that. It went fine. But the rally was another matter.

Lesson: If 150 queer students gather in Forest Place during the school holidays and offer megaphone condemnations of capitalism, consumerism, ("We're queer but we're not here to shop") and conservative family values, they won't get very far. As soon as the rally ended and we began to march, somebody was arrested. Four other arrests followed as people gathered around the paddy wagons chanting "This is not a police state, we have the right to demonstrate". It was like a medieval street scene as people looking down from the walkways shouted support or condemnation. Finally, the police backed off and approximately 140 of us marched down the street chanting "We're queer, we're loud, we're union and we're proud" and handing out leaflets. The five people arrested were changed with disorderly conduct, but from what I gather there were no convictions. Numbers were taken down but I'm not sure whether formal complaints against the police are being pursued although a queer activist collective has been formed in Perth. Next year's QC is being held at the University of Sydney and is themed 'Safe, Sane and Consensual'. Here ends the report.