Conference to examine surveillance of sexualities

Tuesday, 3 July 2018


What has happened over the past 70 years that has led to today’s cultures of surveillance of gay and lesbian sexualities? That’s the question that will be dissected by world-renowned historians at a conference to be held at NeW Space on 12 – 13 September 2018.

Surveilling Minds and Bodies: Sexualities, Medicine and the Law in Australasian Contexts provides a historical context (1950-present) for the current Australasian events surrounding, and responding to, the surveillance of sexualities, particularly gay and lesbian sexualities.

One of the conference organisers and deputy director of the Centre for 21st Century HumanitiesProfessor Marguerite Johnson says the surveillance of minds and bodies happens constantly, and sometimes without us being aware of it.

“Australasian society makes minds and bodies the matter of medicine and of law. The interference of society in matters of sexuality means any deviance from the norm (heterosexual, cisgender, male) is monitored and restricted, often in negative ways,” she said.

Professor Johnson says historically, Australia has not been a positive environment for those who define themselves as non-heterosexual, non-cisgender.

“This conference is about looking at the past to gain some answers for the future. It is important to document historical cases of surveillance on sexuality and gender, in order to make sure that we don’t fall into those violent practices again,”Professor Johnson said.

The conference comes at a time when debates over the Marriage Equality Postal Survey, subsequent Yes vote, and the passing of Marriage Equality legislation in Australia, as well as the proposed legislation reintroducing conversion therapy practice in Victoria, are at the forefront of Australian culture.

According to PhD student, and Research Assistant on the project, Ms Tanika Koosmen,“The recent shifts in power dynamics pertaining to sexualities, the body, medicalisation, and the law – represented most profoundly by the marriage equality debate – demonstrate the need for a series of historical enquiries into these key social issues.”

“We, as Australians, are among the last of the first-world countries to pass marriage equality laws – why? What exactly about our social context restricted us?” Ms Koosmen asks.

The themes of marriage equality, legal issues and sexual surveillance, medicalisation and sexual surveillance, sexualities in Australasia since 1950, sexualities and activism, and community support groups will be explored during the conference. The conference is aimed at both academic and community interests and anyone is welcome to attend.

“This conference aims to create a space for inquiry and discussion. It is time to put the surveilling practices of our society under a microscope, and to document the ways sexualities have been monitored by our governments,” Ms Koosmen commented.

Global Innovation Chair in the History of Violence at The University of Newcastle and Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London, Professor Joanna Bourke will open the conference as keynote speaker with a talk on Medical and Psychiatric Histories of Non-consensual Sexual Sadism. Professor Bourke is renowned world-wide for her research on British, Irish, American and Australian societies from the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries, focusing on previously taboo topics, such as histories of rape, fear, and face-to-face killing.

Day two of the conference will open with a keynote address by Ms Michelle Lancey, the founder of Newcastle Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the non-profit organisation that promotes support for families and friends of LGBTQI people with an overarching focus of keeping families together. She was named Newcastle Woman of the Year in 2018 in recognition of her advocacy for LGBTQI rights and for her active involvement in the marriage equality ‘Yes’ campaign.

They will be joined by co-organisers from The University of Newcastle, Dr James Bennett (History) and Dr Kcasey McLoughlin (Law).

Registrations for the conference are now open.