A powerful report released by out Green MP Kevin Hague at Hamilton Pride this afternoon makes it clear New Zealand is still a hostile environment for vulnerable queer youth, something which is said to primarily stem from to the common public assumption everyone is straight.
The report comes with a clear list of recommendations for change and Hague says that "as adults we have a responsibility to make things better for our young people."
How do we make it better? Mapping the Steps towards a More Supportive Coming Out Environment for Queer Youth in Aotearoa New Zealand was researched and written by Murray Riches, an undergraduate student at the University of Waikato majoring in social policy and public relations. It is based on interviews with 22 key stakeholders who work with queer youth across New Zealand.
"The overwhelming majority of informants pointed out that the major difficulty experienced by queer youth in our country is a pervasive assumption of heterosexuality," he writes. "Many informants believed this heteronormativity was at the root of all the other issues and forms of prejudice that queer youth experience from day to day."
The specific issues raised include bullying, isolation, invisibility of queer people, a lack of knowledge amongst professionals who work with youth, inconsistency in how school support queer students, the struggle to embrace the diversity within the queer community, a lack of public awareness of queer issues, poor policies for transgender health provision, and growing complacency towards queer activism and rights.
Hague says that despite legislative changes like Homosexual Law Reform, anti-discrimination legislation, and the provision for civil unions which had immeasurably improved the social environment for adults, most queer and transgendered young people still had to navigate a very hostile world.
"Murray's report provides an excellent summary of the issues and a really practical programme for improving things, which I hope our whole community - regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity - will be able to unite behind and commit to implementing."
Develop policies that would ensure all schools create safe and empowering environments for queer students.
Make sexuality and gender diversity education part of the core curriculum.
Weave diversity awareness into all aspects of the curriculum.
Make queer issues and diversity training a central part of teacher training and professional development.
Ensure that teaching staff diversity, in terms of culture, gender and sexual identities, has administrative and institutional support.
Promote the establishment of both community and school based support groups.
Develop a national network where support groups can collaborate and support one another.
Develop a national QSA network to promote the establishment of QSA groups throughout the country.
Ensure collaboration between QSA and community based groups and networks.
Hold the media accountable for negative or narrow representations of queer people.
Develop the capabilities of media spokespeople throughout our community.
Develop a database of media spokespeople throughout the country.
Engage with and educate journalist and reporters.
Encourage celebratory events that raise the visibility of the queer community.
Seek government support for a national visibility/public education campaign.
Work alongside sporting and cultural institutions to encourage more out role models in different public domains.
Ensure queer events and spaces cater for all queer people, not just the hegemonic groups.
Cross-Sectoral Professional Development:
Make diversity training and queer issues a central part of the training and professional development of all professionals who work with youth â€“ i.e.Counsellors, Nurses, Teachers, Social Workers.
Establish a policy group or network dedicated to promoting policy initiatives that will empower queer youth and seek to have the queer youth perspective heard in any policy development.
Work with schools and other institutions to see existing policy implemented or enforced.
Develop policies that make it easier for transgender youth to navigate the health system and access the appropriate services.
Specific research into the health needs of transgender youth and the implications of existing policies is needed.