November 11th 2011 saw an exciting joint symposium between the Youth studies and Sexualities BERA SIG at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.The initial idea was to encourage health educators, LGBT and feminist activists, youth workers and other young people’s practitioners to come together to discuss issues around youth gender and sexualities. With over 90 delegates, the popular day included discussions, film showings, interactive theatre and academic presentations. Dr Pam Alldred kick-started the day with a paper on the state-of –play in relation to policy debates around sex & relationship education and sexualities more broadly.
Other sessions on the day explored themes including moral panics and youth sexualities, the ‘sexualisation’ debate, the challenges of promoting safer sex awareness, negotiations of gendered pleasure and young people, and the challenges of weaving sexuality/gender activism, theory and practice together for youth work educators. The feminist youth work group, Feministwebs led a popular workshop on lesbian-feminist activism and practice. The successful Irish LGBT youth organisation, Belongto, showed the film, and led a discussion about engaging with policymakers and developing anti-homphobia projects in Ireland over the past decade. This has included viral youtube promotion of Belongto’s anti homophobia campaign and Ireland’s first gay prom for LGBT teens.
One session I attended that I enjoyed greatly explored SRE policy and practice in Wales and England. Dr Anita Naoko Pilgrim presented reflections on the current directions of SRE policy within a Welsh context. Ester McGeeney reflected on the twin themes of pleasure and disgust in her research within young people’s sexual cultures. Finally, Ali Hanbury discussed the challenges of working around concepts of pleasure when working as sexual health educator.
The final round table session enabled all participants to discuss the issues raised during the day. Of note, was the differences between working within different national contexts on health education, sex & relationship education, PSHE and youth work, with England, in particular, lagging behind the apparently more progressive policy and practice contexts of Ireland, Wales and Scotland on a number of key issues. The other main discussion point was the opportunities and challenges of engaging with work around gender, sexuality and education under ‘austerity’. Whilst some discussants felt that this increased the impetus of a neoliberal agenda within health, education and youth work, others felt that new spaces were also opening up to engage with a more activist and innovative agenda.
The mix of attendees including students, educators, researchers, academics, practitioners and activists- with many present inhabiting several of these roles simultaneously, made for creative and dynamic dialogue. The BERA SIG teams hope to repeat the success of this day event day in 2012/13. Watch this space.