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Debates Committee’s queer officer motion stirs controversy

The motion has been criticised for discriminating against bisexual, transgender, and non-binary applicants.

Image of the University of Sydney Debating Society The University of Sydney's prestigious Debating Society has come under fire after a motion was sent to its membership for consideration that allegedly discriminates against bisexual students.

A motion to create the position of queer officer on the USU Debates Committee, but which places barriers in the path of bisexual candidates, has been sent to members of the society for consideration.

The motion, prepared by a prominent member of the prestigious Debating Society, calls for the appointment of a queer officer who publicly identifies as “experiencing same gender attraction and/or identifying as trans”.

The motion continues to state, though, that “presenting in a cis heteronormative way, e.g. being a heterosexual passing relationship, should count against but not necessarily exclude a candidate from being appointed”.

Executive positions are typically made available first to existing members of Debates Committee. But the motion stipulates that where there is a choice between appointing a queer candidate who presents in a cis heteronormative way, and a candidate who isn’t on debate committee currently, the latter should be chosen.

The Debates Committee was supposed to vote on the motion at their meeting two weeks ago. Instead, the Committee has circulated the motion to the debating society membership via a Google form for feedback. A set of previous changes to the society’s regulations providing for affirmative action for people of colour was discussed in the same way, and later approved.

The author of the current motion, who would prefer to remain anonymous, told Honi that queer visibility was essential given the role would largely consist of advocating against, and providing counselling for victims of, queer-phobia in external debating tournaments. 

“You are only at a major competition for a few days, and most queerness does not obviously manifest itself in the way that some racial or gender expression does,” they said.

“As a result, the people most vulnerable in a debating context are those who are easily read as same gender attracted or trans.

“Unsurprisingly, people currently in heterosexual passing relationships are less vulnerable to that.”

While they acknowledged that “some experiences of queerness will be deprioritised”, the author argued this was not the dominant issue here.

“It becomes very hard for people who have experiences similar to mine, of being called a faggot at almost every major competition I have been to, to find someone to talk to when the queer officer does not embody the content of the experience they want to talk about due to just the fact that they visibly engage in heterosexual passing relationship.”

“Another role the queer officer fulfils is being an embodiment of visible queerness in a society that is filled to the brim with, and actively centres, heterosexuality. Obviously someone in a heterosexual passing relationship can’t fulfil that role.”

Though SRC Queer Officer Connor Parissis says a motion to elect a queer officer who does not present in a ‘cis heteronormative way’ “firstly seems to enforce stereotypes of how queer individuals should act and interact, and secondly invalidates the experiences of bisexual, transgender, and non-binary people in, what they or society should consider, a ‘heterosexual relationship’.”

“A motion built upon the exclusion of self-presentation and relationships is entirely counterproductive to the queer community’s goal for total self-determination in one’s expression of gender, sexuality and self,” Parissis said.

“There exists no correct way for queer people to present themselves or their relationship with others, and our community should embrace diversity of expression, even if that adheres to ‘appearing in a cis heteronormative way.”

USU President Courtney Thompson told Honi the USU is an “organisation that values and supports all queer students on campus” and that the Board will “consider the matter further if the motion is successful”.   

The motion is likely to be voted on in the next Debates Committee meeting.