I recently had an article published in the University Magazine. I have never felt so proud of myself. It was a double page spread with a cover feature. Here it is for you to read….
As we are all aware, the last 10 years have been fantastic for Queer Rights. We have celebrated the passing of the Marriage Equality Bill, public toilets and changing rooms are making allowances for transgender patrons to use the one that fits their gender identity, and more and more films, television programs and video games are using LGBT characters or relationships to show the diversity of humanity. These break throughs are huge, and significantly affect the lives of the Rainbow Community all over the world. In New Zealand, we are lucky, because we have a much more accepting environment than many other countries. However, there are still groups of people in the New Zealand LGBT community who are completely ignored and put by the wayside. One of these groups are our LGBT teenagers, children and school students.
I am training to be a secondary school teacher with the University of Auckland. One of our mandatory papers involves a lot of discussion about racial and cultural diversity in New Zealand schools and how to address this as a teacher. We have talked about normalising Te Reo in the classroom, and making an environment for Pasifika students that helps them to express themselves. We have expressed how to make all students feel comfortable, no matter where in the world they come from, and making allowances for cultural differences. While all these things are brilliant, as it helps to promote an inclusive environment for all cultures, not once have any of my professors mentioned the Rainbow Community. We have never addressed how to tackle homophobia or transphobia in our classrooms, not once has it been mentioned how to help a student who feels isolated because of his or her sexuality. The Faculty of Education are completely ignoring a fundamental part of being a teenager – our sexuality.
When I was at school, health class was purely about “not getting pregnant”. Nobody discussed what it meant to be LGBT or that this was even normal. As a bisexual teenager, I had no idea if there was something wrong with me, or how I could handle the feelings I had. When I was 15 I got my first girlfriend. We went to the school social together, and danced like all the straight couples did, we kissed during a slow song, like all the straight couples did, and we held hands around school like all the straight couples did. At the social, people stared at us, and laughed. Some people threw lolly wrappers at us. One of the teachers told us to stop kissing. None of the straight couples were told to stop kissing. For the whole year people laughed at us in the corridors, and called me a “dyke” or a “lezza”. My girlfriend’s sister often told me to stay away from her. People did not accept us. Worse still, the teachers did not protect us. The problem is, straight is “normal” and we were not that. Nor were we the type of girls doing it to “get male attention”. We simply were teenagers with feelings for each other – and that (for some reason) was threatening and scary.
I had hoped, with all the break throughs and acceptance movements of recent times, that by the time I got to teaching, LGBT students would be accepted and normalised. I seriously hoped that no children would have to go through what my girlfriend and I had to go through at school. Yes, teenagers can be horrible to each other, but what is needed is protection by the teachers and normalisation within the school environment. This has never been mentioned in any of my lectures at the Faculty of Education. LGBT teenagers are some of the most at risk groups in our community. According to, a 2009 study, 1/5 LGBT teenagers have attempted suicide and self-harm. These are the students I am going to be teaching in less than a years’ time, yet I have never been told how to deal with this complicated and highly emotional issue. As a woman in the LGBT community, I have more experience and will be able to help any LGBT students with more authenticity than others. But what of those future teachers who have no knowledge or experience of LGBT issues? What of those future teachers who are completely opposed to Queer Rights? What of those teachers going into religious schools? None of these people will have any idea what to do, if faced with an issue surrounding an LGBT student. How can we be well equipped to be good, effective teachers and leaders if we are completely ignoring a huge part of our community?
I want young LGBT students to be able to come to school and not be afraid of what might happen in math class today. I want them to be able to come to me or another teacher and tell me they’re having trouble with bullies or feelings – and I want to be able to help them! Acceptance starts young – we want a generation of young people growing up aware of LGBT and totally ok with it. We are not circus freaks, and it is not a phase. We are dealing with growing up, puberty and feelings just as much as any other teenager. Schools do not accept bullying based on race, so why do so many LGBT students get bullied because of their sexuality? Our schools need to be a safe place, where anyone’s sexuality, gender identity, race or religion is accepted and embraced. The Faculty of Education is turning out thousands of teachers a year, and they need to start addressing the elephant in the room. LGBT students are going to exist – whether they like it or not! It is time we start educating our future educators on the Rainbow Community, and make our schools safe wonderful accepting environments. I would hate to see any child going through what I went through.
Shame on you, Faculty of Education for ignoring this vital information. Get with the times and make the world a better place.