Annaliese Constable: Operation Queer Space

 In Podcast transcripts, Queerstories

Transcript:

Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQI+ storytelling night I host and programme around the country. If you’re a regular listener, you’ll notice that I am, yet again, recording a new intro for the podcast. I feel a lot of pressure now to keep things fresh, so the relationship doesn’t get stale. 

If you’re a first-time listener, welcome. Please check out the back catalogue of stories. There’s some really, really wonderful work there, and please rate, review, and subscribe to the podcast, so you can stay up to date. Consider purchasing a copy of the Queerstories book, which I published with Hachette Australia last year. And, when you’ve got a moment, look up My Mother’s Kitchen on your phone; a collaboration I did with Google’s Creative Labs. 

Follow Queerstories on socials for event updates, and check out Maeve Marsden on crowdfunding platform Patreon. I don’t know why that sounded so sing-song. “On crowdfunding…” It’s awkward when you’re asking people for money but, look, I’ve got a Patreon page, and for a small monthly donation you can help me to continue to run these events. Anyway, please enjoy the podcast. 

Annaliese Constable is a writer, performer and queer rights activist working across stand-up, queer performance, and theatre. Annaliese is funny for a girl, pretty for a lesbian and, when she can afford it, very well medicated. If you want to find Annaliese on Twitter, search for @fistyscent. That’s “fisty” followed by “scent” spelt S-C-E-N-T. It is, in my opinion, the best Twitter handle anyone has ever come up with.

Annaliese first performed this story at Wollongong Queerstories, supported by Wollongong City Libraries, then again in Sydney next month. She’ll be performing her full-length show, a tragicomedy called Perfect Child, at Giant Dwarf in Sydney on October 12th. I am producing the event. I just really love her work, so I hope you’ll come along. I really encourage you to book tickets on the Giant Dwarf website. Here’s her story. 

 

*Bangs three times on lectern*

 “Open the door!” an intimidating voice yelled through the door.

Dan, Mika and I braced ourselves and angled our bodies against the double-door. It was August 2004, and 48 hours earlier we had locked ourselves in this room at Wollongong Uni, barricading furniture up against the door. We were refusing to leave until the university addressed the spate of queerphobic threats and attacks, and reinstated a queer space on campus. We’d been pleading with the uni and campaigning for a queer space for four years and the uni had been inactive.  Since we locked ourselves in the room and released our demands, the university was refusing to communicate with us. At the beginning, there were 16 queers and allies in the room. Now, it was just Dan, Mika and I. 

*Bangs three times on lectern*

“Open the door or we will break it down.”

On the other side of the door was the riot police. Guns in holsters, helmets on heads, shields in hand, and a battering ram.

In 2004, the University of Wollongong prided itself on being the Good Uni Guide University of the Year. There were 19 cops in total to arrest three peaceful protesters; regular cops, police rescue, riot police, and then there was campus security. It seemed like it was a blue reunion sans Water Rats.  

*Audience laughs*

Dan, Mika and I held on tight. We thought of the queerphobic death threats, the rape threats, the stalking, harassment and intimidation. I thought of the nightmares we all had. I thought of the faces of my friends, my chosen family, who had been devastated when eight of our queer banners were stolen and our queer space petitions defaced with comments like, “Die fags,” and, “Get AIDS and die.” 

*Bangs three times on lectern*

“Open the door or we will break it down.”

I remembered four years earlier in the year 2000 when there had been a queer space on campus, next to the uni bar. It was a warm, welcoming space, and a hive of social activity and political activism for the Queer Collective Allsorts. We celebrated the sexuality week event Miss Homo De Nile in the uni bar, with Pauline Pantsdown performing her iconic I Don’t Like It. At the time, a friend, Joe, had been kicked out of home after coming out. When he had nowhere else to go, he would crash in the queer space. It was a home for all of us. Somewhere our chosen family met, shared meals, argued, made up, and sometimes made out. 

In 2000, the uni announced they wanted to build a new uni bar. The Queer Collective were told we would get a temporary space and then be rehoused alongside the new uni bar, but after the new uni bar was built, the university did not rehouse the queer space on campus, and the queer collective began a four-year campaign to get our space back. As the uni bar was rebuilt, the queer space was shunted across the road, off-campus, into a repurposed garage in an area not patrolled by security. The space would regularly flood from light rain, and water would run down the walls behind active power sockets. The water would pool on the floor, rotting our furniture, and the space was continually damp, while we were continually camp. 

*Audience laughs*

*Bangs three times on lectern*

“Open the door now. We don’t want anyone to get hurt” 

“Neither do we,” I yelled back, “that’s why we’re here.” I made my voice as strong as theirs even though the only weapon I had was my heart. 

As I yelled, I thought of my friend Tracey. She had recently been trapped in the off-campus queer space by a man threatening to burn her to death for being queer. He blocked her exit with his bike and flicked a lighter at her. We reported this attack to the uni and they did nothing. For the Queer Collective, this was the last straw, and this straw was as deadly to queers as they are to sea turtles. 

Two days after Tracey was attacked, we occupied that room and locked those doors. Our campaign to be rehoused on campus raised the visibility of the Queer Collective and, in response, we were met with heightened and regular queerphobic threats and intimidation. We reported every single incident to uni security and administration, and we were ignored, time and time again. But once those doors were locked, they couldn’t ignore us.

On the other side of the door, the riot police took a few steps back to break the door down. They readied themselves to engage the battering ram, and I looked at Dan and Mika and saw the same fear that I felt. I leaned against the door, knowing that three peaceful protesters could not hold the doors closed against a battering ram and riot police. I heard and felt the impact of the first battering ram at the same time, and even though I knew it was coming, it sent a shock through my body. The windows of the building shook from the impact, and the hinges of the door weakened. As all of this happened, regular uniformed police blocked our supporters and allies in a room downstairs, so they couldn’t film the violence.

With each deafening ram, my left ear and temple were smashed, and a pocket of air was forced out of my body. A chair that was propped under the door handles began to buckle and trip Dan. As Mika turned to throw the chair out of the way, the riot police rammed the doors twice more, breaking them open. My girlfriend stood outside the building, a few hundred metres away, hearing our screams.  As the battering ram slammed through, Mika and Dan were jammed up against the wall behind one of the doors. The furniture we’d used as barricades avalanched backwards and the door hinges were heaved off. The surrounding walls crumbled and white plaster scattered over the carpet. The riot police burst through the doors, pushing me to the floor. 

I scrambled away from the guns, shields, helmets, and battering ram, and sat cross-legged with my hands on my knees. The riot police twisted my hands behind my back into a rear wrist lock. A rear wrist lock is used for pain compliance. Pain was being used against me to force me to comply. It felt like my wrists could be broken at any moment. Luckily, I had endured what felt like a fucking lifetime of a Liberal government, so I knew I could sustain pain. 

*Audience laughs*

Dan and Mika were held in the same way, and we were all frogmarched out of the building to two paddy wagons. As we approached the paddy wagons, it became clear the riot police were about to separate us by perceived sex. I protested and said, “Please don’t separate us. I’m worried about Dan’s safety,” and a riot police officer said, “You should have thought of that before.”

The acting Vice-Chancellor Chris Grange said he sent riot police in to arrest three peaceful protesters because of hygiene concerns. For 48 hours, Mika, Dan and I had all been using a bucket as a makeshift toilet, which was routinely emptied by volunteers. “If you’re worried about hygiene, you could’ve sent us in a bar of soap,” I said. And when the riot police turned up, they didn’t even have wet wipes. I mean, what the fuck are all those pockets for? 

*Audience laughs*

When Police Rescue had turned up, we let them know that we didn’t need to be rescued. We had enough food, water, entertainment, and outfit changes for two more weeks. For now though, in the paddywagon, I shook and I cried. I cried with anger, grief, relief, injustice, and resolve. I looked through the window slats in the paddywagon door and saw my girlfriend get smaller and smaller as we drove away. 

I cried some more, and suddenly regretted what I was wearing because I knew a photo was coming. 

*Audience laughs*

At the police station, we were all separately strip-searched – must have been checking us for hygiene – and we were each charged with trespass. “But I booked that room,” I said, as I was told that I would be charged with trespass. 

*Audience laughs and claps*

Still proudly wearing my rainbow badge, I had my mugshot taken. We were released three hours later with court dates.

One week after we were arrested, the Queer Collective held a ceremony to award the University of Wollongong with the Homophobic University of the Year Award. We invited the Vice-Chancellor Gerard Sutton to accept the award. He did not attend. Instead, I accepted the award on his behalf as Gerry Suit On. 

Before the award ceremony, the Queer Collective delivered the hand-written petition – with over 1000 signatures – and 90 letters of support from the Greens, Labor, and Clover Moore to the University Administration. The letters and petition urged the University to address the queerphobia and to grant the queer space on campus. On this day, Dan and I both wore a patch on our clothes that said, “The uni set riot police on me and all I got was a lousy trespass charge.”

*Audience laughs*

When we attempted to deliver the petition and letters to the Vice-Chancellor, they locked the Administration building down and stationed security around the perimeter. And it was lucky they did that because I was pretty riled up about my Big Girls Blouse video that I’d taken into the occupation, but that had mysteriously gone missing when we were arrested. Because nobody gets between me and my Magda Szubanski. 

*Audience laughs*

A month after the award ceremony, Allsorts turned up for our Queer Collective meeting in the off-campus queer space, and it was flooded. The water nearly covered my feet, so we took the Queer Collective meeting to the foyer of the University administration building. Again, we refused to be ignored. 

Over the next year, Mika, Dan and I each had five different court appearances, each appearance being used as an opportunity for further media coverage. If the university were not going to do the right thing for the right reasons, we were going to shame them into doing it. At the time of my court appearances, I was living on Dick Street, and my favourite part of going to court was getting to say “Dick” loudly into the court microphone every time I showed.

*Audience laughs*

We got local, national, and international news coverage… a lot of fuss for hygiene.

On August 4, 2005, three weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of the riot police violently arresting us, the university announced that a queer space on campus had been won.

*Audience applauds*

As a result of the campaign, the Vice-Chancellor sent an email to all University of Wollongong staff and students, urging mutual respect and detailing a campus education program to address queerphobia. An Equity and Diversity Committee was formed, and an educational campaign addressing homophobia was developed.

Following four years of campaigning, death threats, stalking, rape threats, flooding, abuse, a 48-hour occupation, intervention from riot police, three arrests, court proceedings, and presenting the University of Wollongong with the 2004 Homophobic University of the Year Award, Wollongong University Queer Collective Allsorts and queers across Australia came out as the clear winners. 

Three weeks later was the annual University Sexuality Week and Miss Homo DeNile. The Queer Collective moved into the new queer space and we all celebrated our hard-fought win. We hung the photos of me, Mika and Dan getting arrested, and we all painted our hands and imprinted them on the wall with our names. Next to my hand I wrote, “Annaliese Criminal Constable.”

 

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