One of the major achievements of the IRN this year was our collaboration with CLAGS’s ongoing Seminars in the City series.
The Seminars in the City series is part of CLAGS’s mission to make scholarly research in Queer Studies accessible to the general public. The seminars, held at the LGBT Center, have been traditionally supported by a generous grant from the New York Council for the Humanities; however, when we learned that funding would not be available this year, we decided to step in and co-sponsor the series focusing on sexuality and human rights around the world. The series titled Axes of Desire: Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights gave us the opportunity to promote our dual objectives: showcase current research on the topic as well as provide a public forum to connect scholars, activists, and LBTQ community beyond the academy. “Reframing Queer Sexualities in the Middle East,” the inaugural seminar of the fall 2009 Seminars in the City Series, was held on September 14. Serkan Gorkemli, session facilitator and a member of the IRN Middle East regional editorial board, started the discussion by summarizing the current debate over constructionist versus essentialist views of homosexuality in the Middle East. Following this overview, the seminar focused on queer activist uses of new media, such as the Internet, which complicate the polarized, monolithic views current in the academy. This approach led to an engaging discussion on contemporary queer activism in the region, which is often insufficiently addressed in academic discourse.
Interestingly the second seminar presented on October 5, 2009 also explored the role of Internet technology in queer activism. The seminar, Neither Heaven Nor Hell: The Reality of Sexual Minority in the Caribbean, was presented by Angelique Dixon, a member of the IRN Caribbean Board, and broadcast live on the web. Dixon’s discussion drew contents from relevant websites (including IRN-Carribbean), press releases, and personal blogs from the region, and led this well attended seminar through the variety of issues relevant to the Caribbean LGBTQ community as well as the work done to address the issues. The seminar highlighted the goals and achievements of the IRNCaribbean and fostered a discussion in which the participants readily shared their thoughts, suggestions, and experiences about the realities and complexities of sexual minority activism.
Our IRN Latin America Seminar took place on Day of the Dead as celebrated in Mexico, November 2, 2009. The two presenters, Anahi Russo Garrido (Rutgers University) and Raziel Valino (Columbia University) complemented each other’s work based on their research in urban and rural Mexico. Garrido presented her research on young women in “el ambiente” (queer spaces in Mexico City). She drew the seminar participants’ attention to the fact that “el ambiente” as a space is marked by not only queer gender and sexualities but also economic class and symbolic global hierarchies. Raziel reflected on the gender identities of gender-intermediate figures who have lived their lives as men in the rural areas of the state of Morelos, both past and present. Both researchers led a thought-provoking discussion on the challenges faced by the Mexican activists focused on laws relating to sex change and same-sex unions, and how to come up with an inclusive language that takes into account the diverse gender and sexual identities across the country.
Our last seminar was a culmination of the technological thread of conversation in the seminars, at least in practical terms. Set up as a webinar, Queer(exiled): The Identity Politics of the Balkans in Transition, was facilitated by Jasmina Sinanovic and brought together two panelists via cyberspace: Borisl Milicevic from GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) Belgrade, Serbia and Svetlana Durkovic (Udruzenje Queer) from Sarajevo, Bosnia. The panelists responded to questions posed by the audience regarding the challenges posed while negotiating globalization and fundamentalism as the Balkans states struggle to (re) create and maintain their identities. Both panelists emphasized the importance of “home-grown” activism; however, international recognition, spotlight, and financial support goes a long way to endure, according to Durkovic, the psychological pressures faced by the activists in places where activists can be subjected to state sponsored homophobia.
IRN plans to organize a one day conference as a finale event for the Axes of Desire series in April, 2010. The conference will bring together the regional coordinators and offer panel discussions and workshops on gender, sexuality, and human rights from an international perspective. More information about the event will be available on the IRN website. We’d like to extend our special thanks to Chun-Ping Yen, IRN Web Coordinator, for addressing the cyber challenges and ensuring our audience in the regions under discussion had access to the seminars as well as opportunity to participate in the discussions despite the distance.