Queer Department Issues Paper.

Queer RMIT has had several discussions regarding becoming a department of the Student Union. Recent changes to the Student Union constitution enables this change. However the hard work of determining how a Queer Department would function, the nature of it’s work, and how it will interract with other departments is still ahead of us.
This is an attempt to cover the issues which have been raised in Queer RMIT discussions, to open them up to wider debate, and provide a picture of what needs to be resolved.

The Name
Queer RMIT discussed several possible names for the department including;

The usual order of the above identities is Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender. This establishes a hierachy so the order is often randomised or at least moved around. Also the standard use of bisexual to represent both bisexual women and men is dangerous as it leads to bisexual men being considered representative of all.
There are some who do not see all these identities as relevant to their politics. However Queer RMIT has expressed a strong commitment to people who identify as Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and/or Transgender constituting the core constituency of Queer politics.
There is less agreement on the inclusion of other peoples issues within Queer politics (ie. People with disabilities or sex workers when those people are not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender). Queer has also often included people in the BD/SM or various fetish communities however this is problematic for some. Whether or not “straights” can be queer and how is continually contentious.
There are also issues about the emphasis on identities and the exclusion this means for people who are unsure or who choose a new or different word (ie. Pansexual, Queer).
Lastly given the breadth of difference within these groups mentioned some feel that queer politics becomes meaningless and needs to be more exclusive. Queercore for example would exclude wealthy “Queers”. There are also doubts that a meaningful coalition with lesbians and bisexual women can include sexist or mysoginist gay or bisexual men. The greatest issue people have with this title is that it fails to recognise the specific focus (some would say exclusive focus) needed on non-heterosexual issues.
Concerns ranged from the possibility that such a department could be “taken over” by heterosexual issues to the possibility that failing to mention any specific identity would allow the deparmtent to be selective about who it attracts (ie. ignoring lesbians). Queer RMIT has nominated Queer as their preferred title for the department. This is not without recognising that for many, Queer is an obscure or alienating term. There are also strong ctritics of queer who suggest that it fails to specifically mention, Lesbians in particular and thus glosses over differences in power between men and women.
Both a negative and positive of queer is it’s range of interpretations. For most it is a summation of those identitites they see occupying the core constuitency of Queer politics. For others it is a philosophy. This is why it has served as a working basis for Queer RMIT to work under.
The Queer Officers
There was general agreement that a department would require at least one person in a official co-ordinating or facilitating role. This was seen as a real benefit to the work of opposing heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and tranniphobia on campus and providing support to students around sexuality issues.

The following were key issues raised by Queer RMIT;

Gender Parity
Queer RMIT recognises the dominance of men in Queer politics and would like to see this structurally addressed in any officer position/s. The most practical option is to create two part time positions however this creates problems in regard to voting rights on CSC and SUC.
Alternatives proposed included that if a man held the position for one year then the following year it would have to be held by a woman. The opposite (that a woman must be followed by a man) is not necessary. Or the vote could be rotated between officers on a six month basis.
It is a principle of Queer RMIT that Transgendered women are recognised as woman (and that transgendered men are recognised as men).

The honorarium has not been significantly discussed by Queer RMIT yet.

Voting rights on Higher Ed. City Campus Student Council
Voting will obviously require further constitutional change. It is hoped that if this will take a while then an officer/s without voting rights can be established in the interim.

Voting rights on SUC
There were three possibilities raised. Each dealt with the idea of one vote on SUC which fails to address need for gender parity. Firstly that City Campus Student Union convert a current general Representative position (after the required constitutional change) to a Queer Officer position.
Secondly that a voting position be created outside the current campus specific structure (ie. like President) and thirdly that City Campus Higher Ed. gains an additinal vote on SUC.
The last two options destroy the balance between campuses on SUC so unless the first option is tenable then how to achieve any queer voice on SUC is a serious dilemma.

How they are elected and whether or not they can be “straight”.
Some people raised concerns with the election of an officer from the general student population or a Queer Officer/s who identifies as heterosexual. These concerns were not universal.
There was minority support for some method of selection or appointment from Queer RMIT (ie. at an AGM) but this was considered by most as both highly stackable and undemocratic.
Even those for whom it was desirable could see the imposibility of determining who amongst the student population was not heterosexual (ie. for voting purposes).
One suggestion was the promotion (possibly even on ballot papers) that people who identified as heterosexual are asked not to vote for the Queer Officer as a recognition of their privelage.
Agreement was reached that straight or not, people who were elected would be expected to have a comittment to all lesbian, bisexual (women and men), gay and transgender issues. Queer RMIT recognises that this excludes some transgender, lesbian, bisexual (women and men), and gay students who may be hostile to other groups within “queer” as well as excluding and including some straights. Such an expectation could be reflected in the job description and aims of a queer officer and department.

The Budget
The intention is that any Queer Department should have a specific budget. The amount has not been discussed. There was a limited discussion on the autonomy of any budget and whether or not the budget would be entirely autonomous and/or a fixed allocation of CSC fundng.
The reasons for considering these options are the potential for a CSC to become controlled by homophobes. Queer RMIT understandably feels insecure about reliance on a student council for continued support.

The Collective
Like the Ecology Action Group on City Higher Ed. Campus, Queer RMIT will probably become the Queer Department Collective. Even if this doesn’t happen formally most Queer RMIT members would probably participate in the collective to the extent that a club/society would be a superfluos duplication.
The expectation is that the collective would operate similar to the Welfare and Education Collective in terms of directing officers and like any collective would need to be continually promoted.

Queer RMIT is currently pursuing Queer Space on campus. This would appear the best option for any Queer Officer/s’ office/s.
This is not meant to preclude the longer term possibility of office space in a seperate location.