What Matters: Sydney Mardi Gras Queer Thinking Program

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Innovative thinkers, creatives, community organisers, activists and academics will traverse topics asking serious questions about the current state and future of the LGBT community.   

Queer Thinking takes place at Seymour Centre on the weekend of February 22 and 23 comprising of nine thought provoking sessions.   

In our search for the next rush in ideas and compelling community initiatives, here are just some of the highlights on what to expect in the conversations being explored during mardi gras season: 

Saturday, 22 February

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The LGBT Elders dance brings together pioneers of our community in a safe space of celebration with afternoon tea provided.

Dennis Altman In Conversation With Raewyn Connell (12pm-1pm) – Reflecting on the early days of gay liberation in Australia, the homosexualisation of America, and subsequent rise of the far right in both nations; Dennis Altman and Raewyn Connell will unpack the past, consider the present and pontificate on the future. Have we achieved post – gay? Is nostalgia a milestone around the neck of the queer revolution? And what change can one manifest from within the ivory tower?

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Homage brings together LGBTQI+ musicians playing tribute to their favourite queer artists, performing covers and reinventions of the songs that helped shape our identities and define our communities. Songs of protest, thumping dancefloor beats, speakers mounted precariously on garish parade floats, another lesbian singer-songwriter with a guitar… The only rule? The songs performed must have been made famous by another LGBTQI+ artist.  Photo Credit: Patrick Boland

Does Marriage Matter? Pride and Activism In the Asia Pacific (1:30pm-3pm) – When Taiwan passed marriage equality in 2019, the move was celebrated globally: the first Asian nation to achieve this historic reform. But in a region with violent histories of colonialism and contemporary State oppression, does mainstream Australia’s continued focus on marriage equality as a measure of progress help or hinder? What does universal LGBTQI equality actually look like?

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Explore the treasure of queer art history with highlights from the archives, and watch screenings of rare queer film shorts in a tribute to 20 years of the Gallery’s pioneering film program at Queer Art After Hours at Art Gallery of NSW / Photo Credit: Jeffrey Feng Photography

Queer Liberation Needs Prison Abolition (5pm-6pm) – The chant from the first Mardi Gras in 1978 pulled no punches. What has happened in the intervening years? LGBTIQ+ identities and behaviours are more heavily policed and criminalised than the dominant white cis-hetero population, sistergirls and trans women are locked up in male prisons, HIV transmission is criminalised – but State violence and prison abolition has dropped off the mainstream gay agenda. With cops now a feature at Pride parades, and the ever increasing demands for hate crime legislation and carceral repercussions  – have we lost our way? 

Sunday, 23 February

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Peta Friend – My Trans Story, Carriageworks /  Photo Credit: Ann-Marie Calilhanna

Trans Futures (12pm-1pm) – In the face of continued threats to the lives of trans people, there’s no rest for transgender leaders and organisers.  From Trump’s America, to the Murdoch Press, to the rise and rise of the TERFs and SWERFS – battles rage on all fronts. Join three leading trans thinkers as they outline their vision for the future of transnational trans organising and mutual aid. Is there a trans light at the end of the cisnormative tunnel? What does trans liberation look like?

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LGBTQI+ youth in Australia still experience some of the highest rates of bullying of any demographic, and the most common place this occurs is at school.
Still in 2017, young people are being told they can’t attend their high school formal with a same sex partner, and even more are made to feel comfortable for wearing clothes that align with their gender identity.  The Queer Formal hosts more than 500 LGBTIQ youth to attend a sit down dinner, watch live music artists, listen to inspiring speeches, and dance the night away. 

Freedom From Whom (3pm – 4pm) – LGBTQI+ people are often placed in direct opposition to religious institutions, but what of those who tick both boxes? In our rush to condemn both historical and contemporary discrimination and exclusion by religious institutions, are LGBTQI+ believers being unfairly sidelined by both religious and LGBTQI+ communities, leaving few spaces where they feel welcome? LGBTQI+ people of faith discuss legislation, LGBTQI+ community exclusion, activism, contradictions, and what faith means to them.

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Special guest speakers include pioneering gay rights activist Dennis Altman in conversation with academic Raewyn Connell, award-winning poet Ellen van Neerven, academic Aren Aizura, executive director of change.org Sally Rugg, lawyer and writer Alison Whittaker, psychotherapist, community activist, and policy advisor Dr Gávi Ansara, Secretary at Acceptance Sydney for Gay and Lesbian Catholics Matthew Boon Meng Ng, Chair of the Transgender Resource Center Henry Tse, sex worker and activist Gala Vanting, and Pacific Studies lecturer and writer Dr Patrick Thomsen.

The weekend also includes free sessions, include a mass singalong with The Welcome Choir, Big Queer Book Club with Better Read Than Dead and a Letter Writing Workshop with social worker and prisoners’ rights advocate Witt Gorrie and community organiser Anne-lise Ah-fat.


Queer Thinking
WHERE: Seymour Centre, City Road & Cleveland Street
WHEN: Saturday 22 February, 2020 – Sunday 23 February, 2020, 12pm – 6:30pm
TICKETS: $15 Full, $10 Concession / $45 Full, $30 Concession

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Cover Image: Ivy Pool Party, Merivale / Jeffrey Feng Photography


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