Few outside the LGBTQIA+ community or uninitiated into the Freudian slip that is student politics would have heard of Queer Collaborations conference (QC). As its name suggests, QC is a national conference for queer people, mainly attended by students. The conference has existed since 1991 and usually occurs in mid-July with at least 200 delegates in attendance from all across Australia. While conference registration is unrestricted, the majority of attendees are university students who are active members of their respective institutions’ queer collectives or clubs. QC enables queer people from across Australia to engage in community building, work on campaigns and lobbying on a national scale, and share skills and experiences. QC also has a “Conference Floor”, which operates as a council like body which passes motions representative of the views and proposed actions of the queer student community across Australia. This year the conference was hosted by the queer collective of Queensland University at its St Lucia Campus from 1 – 7 July.
QC is not officially affiliated with the National Union of Students (NUS), however has historically been supported by the NUS. That support has dwindled in recent years, as the position of “National/ NUS LGBTI Officer” has been used as a political bargaining chip in the game-of-thrones-esque intrigues of various major players in student politics: the National Labor Students, affiliated with the left of the Labor Party; Student Unity, affiliated with the right-wing of the Labor Party; the Liberals; and the Socialist Alternative, affiliated with Victorian Socialists (to name a few). For a number of years, the Socialist Alternative has held the position of NUS LGBTI Officer, despite numerous representatives of and leaders within the queer community expressing concerns about their competence and intentions towards the position.
Previously, in 2017, QC Conference Floor passed a motion condemning the former National Queer Officer, Christopher Di Pasquale, for his failure to represent and advocate for the interests of queer students. In a stroke of insensitivity only a student politician could manage, he failed to raise any argument against a National Day of Action being scheduled on the one day of the year the world is focussed on celebrating queer identities and raising awareness of human rights violations against LGBTQIA+ people, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The 2017 Monash Queer Officers raised the matter in a Monash Student Council Meeting, which resulted in Di Pasquale dubbing the conference and its delegates “unrepresentative swill”. Despite Di Pasquale’s apparent contempt for the queer community, the Socialist Alternative candidates managed to claw their way back into the position of NUS LGBTI Officer in the following NUS Elections.
This year things were different at QC. Queer students did not just pass a condemnation of their national “representative”, but a demand for one of two NUS LGBTI Officers, Jasmine Duff, to step down. Conference Floor also demanded NUS elect the QC pre-selected candidate for the position of National LGBTI Officer by way of postal ballot upon Duff’s resignation. The motion was passed almost unanimously, with two abstentions and no dissents. So, you may be asking, what was the final straw that broke the rainbow camel’s back? Unfortunately, pin-pointing just one mistake or major failure of the NUS LGBTI Officers would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The reasons for the demand for Duff’s resignation contained in the motion included:
- A history of behaviour which is “intimidatory” and “transphobic in nature”, including verbal abuse and mis-gendering of a queer student during the 2017 NUS National Conference, and sustained harassment of queer students prior to her election as NUS LGBTI Officer; and,
- A failure to perform her duties as prescribed under clause B77 of the NUS Constitution, including contacting all university queer officers in Australia via email one once a month, and supporting the campaigns of university queer collectives.
During discussion of the motion on Conference Floor, it was revealed that most university queer officers throughout Australia had never heard from Duff by telephone, email, or even carrier pigeon, and some did not even know who she was. The motion also included a direction for AQSN and the QC Organising Committee to publish an official press release regarding the motion.
Other motions discussed at QC which were in a similar vein also deserve an honourable mention:
- NUS at Ursula Hall: A motion calling for NUS LGBTI Officer Kim Stern to apologise for his failure to consult with the queer community living in Ursula Hall (ANU) regarding a campaign against homophobia in Ursula Hall, and the methods he employed in that campaign.
- QO’s with our backs, not stupol hacks: Another demand for the NUS LGBTI Officers to be drawn from the Australian queer community as opposed to the pool of student politicians.
- Not Unrepresentative Swill: A motion calling for recognition the NUS is not acting in the best interests of queer students “on multiple and varied fronts”.
- We Will Not Plead For Recognition: A motion calling for recognition that by using the NUS LGBTI position as a bargaining chip, the NUS has not only failed to act in the best interests of queer students but has actively undermined them.
Whether the NUS will respond to the demands of Queer Students for better representation and advocacy remains to be seen.