3 min

More resolutions than ruptures

UBC gender and sexuaility conference inspires participants

Participants in a Vancouver conference on gender and sexual diversity say they left with a profound sense of purpose, if not a concrete plan of action.

Almost 400 people attended the Resolutions and Ruptures conference, which featured presenters from as far away as Ottawa, Pennsylvania, and Rio de Janeiro. Participants attended a variety of keynote speeches, panel discussions, workshops, readings, film screenings and an art exhibit from Mar 5 to 7 at the University of British Columbia.

“I hope they take home a message that change is possible,” says Anne-Marie Long, one of the conference organizers. “And, I hope they take home strategies to make change, perhaps in ways they hadn’t originally thought of.”

Some talks dealt with the intersection of queer identity with other social categories, such as ethnic groups and people with disabilities. Others illustrated the queer community’s connections with culture, education, health care, the law, social justice and technology.

One panelist explored genderqueer identity, which involves people who play with and blur the boundaries between genders in an effort to break down the binary system of women and men. Another focussed on the problematic use of psychological evidence in court cases and public policy debates over same-sex marriage and parenting rights.

Activist and researcher Kevin Kumashiro, whose keynote address tackled the plight of queer Asian Americans and its implications for the classroom, says he was inspired by and learned much at the conference.

“It’s such a rare opportunity for people who are all committed to an issue to be able to come together and share resources and build networks, especially on the topics of queer activism and challenging homophobia,” says Kumashiro, director of the Center for Anti-Oppressive Education in Washington, DC.

What set this conference apart from many others, he adds, is that participants could focus their energy on developing effective strategies, rather than spending all their time convincing peers of the importance of work dealing with sexual oppression.

Kumashiro says he will have to take some time to reflect on the new perspectives and questions he gained, before knowing how the conference will influence his own work.

Although the presentations were largely academic, the conference did a great job of bringing together research and activism, says Karen Andrien, a conference participant from Vancouver.

“It was nice to see how that correlated with the activism that I like personally to be involved with-at the very, very least, a level simply of living my life and talking through it with those interested enough to hear,” Andrien says.

It just was exciting to have a few hundred queer persons out at UBC, says Long, who works in the university’s equity office. She says she often feels like a minority when walking around the campus.

“I suspect that there are a lot more heterosexual allies here this weekend than are obvious,” Long told the conference’s closing session. “It’s kind of the one opportunity we have of having heterosexual folks perhaps choosing to self-closet themselves, rather than the other way around.”

She hopes the conference will have a lasting impact on the university as a community, as well as a place of education and research.

“At UBC itself, apart from the student organization Pride UBC, there isn’t really a queer presence,” Long says. “There isn’t a queer staff presence, there isn’t a queer faculty presence. Although many of us aren’t closeted, I think the conference organizers wanted to bring UBC out of the proverbial closet.”

Another conference organizer, Lisa Loutzenheiser, co-chair of UBC’s critical studies in sexuality program, encourages participants from universities to ask their professors why they did not attend the conference.

“Frankly, as an academic, I was appalled at who wasn’t here this weekend,” the assistant professor said during the closing session.

Long says she’s pleased the conference was able to bring bisexual, gay, genderqueer, intersex, lesbian, transgender, transsexual and two-spirit persons, as well as straight allies, together to address a myriad of gender and sexuality issues in an environment of mutual respect. The well-attended conference exceeded its organizers’ initial expectations.

Establishing a gender and sexuality conference that travels to different cities on a regular basis would be an excellent way to build on the success of the UBC conference, Long suggests.

“Although we’ve certainly made many legal strides within queer communities, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done,” she says. “And, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done out of the legal realm as well.”