Professor Lynda Johnston of the University of Waikato’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is not your typical geographer.
A long-standing activist for gender and sexual equality, her research looks at the links between place and sexual identities, and to mark her appointment as professor, she’ll be giving a free public lecture later this month on how gay pride parades and festivals transform the usually taken-for-granted heterosexual spaces of cities.
“Gay pride parades and festivals make visible bodies that don’t tend to fit heterosexual norms,” she explains. “These annual events are important because too often gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are marginalised, discriminated against, and subject to violence.
“Gay pride is about celebrating gender and sexual diversity. Parades and festival queer city spaces, and there’s always a great deal of politics involved. We are trying to make Hamilton the gay capital of New Zealand, but there’s a long way to go! Our festival last year coincided with the Rugby World Cup and we weren’t allowed to hang our rainbow knitting on Victoria Bridge, although we ended up getting permission to hang it on the Riff Raff statue.”
In her lecture Professor Johnston will draw on the experiences of cities as different as Hamilton, Sydney and Edinburgh in coming to terms with the public expression and celebration of sexual diversity, and she warns that the audience can expect a few surprises.
“It’s the end of the year, and a topic like mine can upset people who are still very connected to conservative ideas. So often I use humour to break down barriers.”
She’s also encouraging the audience to “dress fabulously” for the occasion.
Professor Johnston’s inaugural professorial lecture, “Proud people and places or just more Riff Raff? The spatial politics of Gay Pride”, takes place on Tuesday November 20 at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato. The Opus Bar is open from 5pm; the lecture begins at 6pm.