By Tom Flanagan
MELBOURNE — More than 200 people attended the 1995 Queer Collaborations conference, held at Melbourne University July 10-14. The conference brought together lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgenderist students (and many non-students) interested in exploring issues of sexuality, identity, and politics from a queer perspective.
From its beginnings in Sydney in 1991 as a conference aimed at consolidating metropolitan queer student groups, Queer Collaborations has evolved into an important national forum for the development of perspectives on politics, society and sexuality quite different to the conservatism and separatism prevalent in the gay and lesbian scene.
Queer politics is marked by its coalitionist sentiment, its respect for diversity and its interest in both the dynamics of the queer community and its relationship to the rest of society.
Significant themes taken up during the conference included social attitudes towards bisexuals within the queer community, and the broader question of the narrow and exclusive character of much of the gay and lesbian scene.
This latter issue was highlighted when one speaker pointed out that, when we're moving forward, it is important to look back and see who we are leaving behind. Not every lesbian, transgenderist, bisexual or gay person can make it to the inner city gay and lesbian ghettos, and not everyone who does make it is welcome.
Issues of racism, sexism and class within the gay and lesbian communities were dealt with extensively, as were questions of the conditions necessary for sexual self-determination in society as a whole. Issues relating to the family and to education received particular attention.
The conference was sometimes marked by organisational chaos, including confusion as to what exactly was on the agenda or where and when workshops were to be found. It was testimony to the political maturity and enthusiasm of participants and the good will of organisers that these difficulties were able to be transcended by allowing the conference a degree of freedom to evolve according to its own dynamics without its queer focus being lost.
While queer has become an umbrella term for a whole range of consenting non-heterosexual sexualities, it also seems to be evolving other connotations. In addition to the political coalitionism mentioned above, the conference exhibited an enthusiasm for diversity, an overtly left political perspective and a willingness of participants to have their beliefs challenged.
The conference voted to hold Queer Collaborations 1996 in Perth and also to establish a national newsletter aimed at strengthening inter-campus links between queer students and to provide a means of disseminating information to queer and queer-friendly students.