The nation’s largest conference on queer and gender identity issues attracted about 180 university students and speakers from across Australia to Canberra last week.

Now in its 19th year, Queer Collaborations continued its tradition of blending political activism, under this year’s theme -˜Deceit of Government’, with social networking for sexuality and gender diverse students from rural and urban university campuses.

Australian National University hosted around 30 seminars on topics ranging from combating queerphobia, to negotiating boundaries in polyamorous relationships, to tips on outreach work with under-age and rural queers.

An increasing number of campuses reported joining the ALLY program, which trains supportive staff to act as liaison officers for queer identifying students and staff.

From Western Australia the conference heard the Catholic Notre Dame University was developing a compulsory ethics course for students on tolerance, with GLBTs included.

However, not all campus reports were positive. Reports from the University of Southern Queensland said a queer collective at its Toowoomba campus was banned from participating in Harmony Day celebrations.

Fewer courses in queer theory were being offered to students because they were seen as less popular and brought in less government funding to universities. Queer spaces and sexuality officer stipends were at risk or being cut at several campuses.

National Union of Students president David Barrow told the conference more would follow unless the Senate passes a Rudd Government proposal to ease cuts from voluntary student unionism with a new amenities fee.

[For many students] the queer spaces was the first place where it was OK to be gay, Barrow said.
That’s true for hundreds who’ve come out of homophobic high schools.

Shock swept the conference on day two when it was announced that nearby University of Canberra had that day abolished its queer department and student-run publications, effective immediately.

Conference organisers changed the schedule so delegates could join a demonstration on Friday at UC campus in support of its student association. Negotiations with UC were continuing this week.

Away from the political action, students found time to network on a social level, including a ball run by local queer student group Jellybabies. Delegates also took over the local gay nightclub Cube on Thursday and Friday night.

info: Next year Queer Collaborations will celebrate its 20th conference in Wollongong.

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