By Kerry Parnell
SYDNEY — More than 2000 lesbians participated in the inspiring conference "Living as Lesbians — Strengthening Our Culture", held at the University of Technology here July 12-14.
Women worked together in a collective over the 18 months leading up to the conference, volunteering weekends and evenings. Over the three days of the conference, security, child-care workers and vegetarian caterers were employed. Billets were organised for interstate, overseas and disabled lesbians.
Ten per cent of the income from registrations went on rent for the use of Koori land. This money was given to the Aboriginal lesbian support group Koori Wirguls.
The lesbian conference is a thing of the future, with a feminist past. In the 1970s, lesbians conferenced largely within the women's movement, passionately striving to create some lesbian space. The first major lesbian conference was held in Melbourne in 1981. A decade later, they have become an annual event. Perth will be setting the pace in 1992.
Koori women had a high profile at the conference, not only in workshops on racism, in the opening and closing ceremonies, and in the Opera House finale (especially in the brilliant performance of the Bangarra Aboriginal Dance Group), but in their strength of presence.
With diversity in mind, workshops were allocated into 16 different streams. Lesbians floated between legal issues and spirituality, sport and sexuality, addiction and the economy, health and racism, feminism and motherhood, art and "coming out". Many workshops attracted more than 100 lesbians eager to share experiences, ideas, feelings, advice and aspirations.
The enthusiasm of the three days (and the dedicated months of preparation) will be captured in a publication that will be available in the next few months. On sale during the conference, the "Connecting Cultures" booklet has given a voice to the experiences of non-Anglo women and a heart to the women who have read it.