The annual Australia-wide queer students conference saw its mojo return last week as more than 220 attendees called for the end of Federal Government policies that cut funding from queer services on campuses and maintain marriage discrimination.

The four-day Queer Collaborations (QC) conference, held in Melbourne this year, looked back at the history of queer activism in Australia with the theme Freedoms are won -” not given and blockaded Labor front-bencher Lindsay Tanner’s office for several hours.

Key figures from Australia’s activist history addressed students including Jeremy Fisher, who was expelled from a Macquarie University college for being gay in 1973; Liz Ross, who has been involved in the gay and lesbian movement since the early 1970s; and authors on early activism including Graham Willett and Lucy Chesters.

It was about having an assessment of the last 30 years and asking where to from here, National Union of Students queer officer James Vigus, who helped organise the conference, told Sydney Star Observer.

Despite a lot of gains in 30 years we still have a lot of laws that discriminate like marriage and adoption rights. Gay students can’t take their partner to the school formal. We still don’t have anyone in major sports who has come out.

The students also began planning a national protest in each state capital for the abolition of relationship recognition apartheid on 3 August, along with anniversary protests against the same-sex marriage ban introduced by the Howard government four years ago.

This year’s conference also saw the first upturn in attendees since the Federal Government passed voluntary student unionism laws (VSU) in 2005. Five years ago the conference was attended by more than 450 students.

Vigus said the VSU changes devastated university queer departments that traditionally would fund students to attend the QC conference as well as other support services and provide a positive queer experience on campuses.

It’s a vulnerable age group, those people leaving school, with a high level of suicide, some still living at home, that we try to be there for. Sometimes queer departments can play a role in saving lives just by being there, Vigus said.

Queer young people are also disproportionately affected because of the burden of having to live at home [due to the increased cost of education].

Queer departments are under-resourced and struggling, not because of the mass of students, but because of Government policy. It put the squeeze on everything and queer departments got hit.

Macquarie University students returning to study this year to find their queer space had been closed down was a symptom of the financial squeeze created by Government’s tertiary education policy, Vigus said.

The QC organisers waived registration costs for a number of campuses that were too cash-strapped to pay for delegates. Vigus said they pleaded with universities for additional support but would likely result in a financial loss this year.

ANU and the University of Canberra won the right to host QC in 2009 with the theme Deceit of Government.

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