Let's Talk about Sex; This Week Sees the Launch of a Research Body at Durham University Called the Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexuality. NEIL McKAY Talked to Centre Director Jo Phoenix

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DURHAM University is known for its robust research but also has a "fusty" image, says Jo Phoenix.

Which is why the criminologist is delighted the ancient seat of learning has agreed to fund the Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexuality.

"This is the first of its kind in the UK but there are a few across the pond," said Prof Phoenix in a transatlantic accent.

"The new centre will be the first in a UK university to include academics from all faculties - arts and humanities, social sciences and health, and science - comprising over 60 researchers." The researchers argue that more needs to be done to eliminate discrimination, sexual and gender-based violence, hate crime, bullying and abuse. But already the new centre has run into controversy over the use of the word "queer". The centre will be launched on Thursday with an inaugural lecture by Professor Kathryn Stockton, professor of English at the University of Utah in America.

The lecture is described as being "on equality, diversity, queer theory and children in a modern age" and will explore if there is such a thing as a "gay" child and will challenge people's thinking about homosexuality and heterosexuality.

Queer Theory is described as "exploring the contesting of the categorisation of gender and sexuality; identities are not fixed - they cannot be categorised and labelled - because identities consist of many varied components and that to categorise by one characteristic is wrong."

But the use of the world queer has already led to one angry blog from a Durham University undergraduate who wrote: "As I was growing up, 'queer' was always an insult. Always.

Whether referring to a gay person, or to the creepy old bloke down the pub who sits and fiddles with his hat in the corner. "Just because you don't find it insulting any more doesn't mean I don't, and it doesn't make it fine to use in conversation. And definitely not in a political setting." Prof Phoenix stresses that the new academic body will concentrate on research, and will not be a strident campaigner against homophobia. She said: "There is no doubt at all that homophobia is still rife in all walks of life. Hate crime is still high in the North East. "But the purpose of this centre is not to campaign but to try to increase knowledge. "One function for example will be to assist school teachers to identify, respond to and cope with homophobic bullying in schools. …


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