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Gay pride adds colour to inaugural professorial lecture

November 21, 2012

Gay pride adds colour to inaugural professorial lecture

It was billed as not your usual inaugural professorial lecture, and Professor Lynda Johnston’s free public lecture at the University of Waikato last night [Tuesday November 20] certainly lived up to expectations.

About 200 people came to hear Professor Johnston speak about how gay pride parades and festivals transform the usually taken-for-granted heterosexual spaces of cities.

Her inaugural professorial lecture also featured drag queens and colourful feather boas, and at the end the audience was invited up onto the stage to join the University’s senior executives for a group performance of the Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The audience had been invited to “dress fabulously”, and acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Professor David Lumsden, who introduced Professor Johnston’s lecture, noted that although some in the audience could have tried harder, academic regalia – consisting of a gown, hood and mortaboard traditionally worn at formal academic events -- was gay enough as it is.

In her lecture entitled “Proud people and places or just more Riff Raff? The spatial politics of Gay Pride”, Professor Johnston said she’d chosen to come to the University of Waikato as a PhD student because of its history of radical, feminist, Marxist, post-colonial and Māori scholarship.

After completing her doctorate she spend three years lecturing at Edinburgh University, before returning to Waikato as a lecturer in geography and tourism studies with a research focus on the links between place, gender and sexual identities.

Her public lecture started with examples of two Hamilton monuments – the Farming Family and the Riff Raff statue. Riff Raff, she said, queers the streets of Hamilton. “It challenges the view that public monuments should be heteronormative.”

She also spoke about the experience of participating in gay pride festivals in Sydney, Edinburgh and Hamilton, and the importance for the queer community of appropriating the streets and challenging the complacency of heterosexual norms.

“Festivals are still politically important expressions of identity,” she said. “My research has found that participants often feel a mix of pride and shame, and sometimes fear of the reception they might get from the public. Feeling in or out of place – what might be called geographies of belonging.”

Professor Johnston discussed the debate surrounding the Auckland Hero parade, which was first held in 1994 and is due to be revived next year, and also talked about last year’s Hamilton’s Gay Pride festival.

“We rubbed up against the Rugby World Cup which led to a clash of cultures. This created geographies of not belonging, but also some fabulous PR opportunities. I was interviewed on Radio New Zealand National after the city council refused to allow us to hang our rainbow knitting on Victoria Bridge, although we were in the end allowed to drape it on the Riff Raff statue.”


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