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Hutt high school students stand up to homophobic bullies

Sep 26th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article, News

A NEW Hutt Valley group formed to support high school-age queer students already has 15 members attending fortnightly meetings.

The group – Hutt School’s Out –  opened a month ago and builds on existing groups for non-heterosexual students at Upper Hutt and Heretaunga Colleges.

It’s open to young people describing themselves as queer, gay, lesbian, takataapui, fa’afafine, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, intersex or questioning, and who need a safe place to talk about it.

Students and teaching staff in the Hutt asked for it, says facilitator Hannah Ho. It was set up along the lines of a similar group that has existed in Wellington since May last year.

“We were being asked ‘why isn’t there one in the Hutt. It’s homophobic here’,” she says.

Hannah cites a Youth 2000 survey of 114 secondary schools in New Zealand in which one in 12 students said they were not heterosexual.

The same report also showed that non-heterosexual young people were more likely than heterosexual students to be bullied, to wag school, and to feel depressed.

For 10% of non-heterosexual students, this was serious enough to mean they attempted suicide in the 12 months before the survey.

“First and foremost [School’s Out is] a safe queer space where not everyone assumes you’re heterosexual,” she says.  “We do stuff like yarn, have informative workshops and discussions, eat food, watch DVDs, have guest speakers, play games and have fun.”

Using the word “queer” to make sure everyone feels welcome has been a deliberate choice for Hannah and fellow facilitator Brendan Goudswaard.

“We totally recognise for a lot of older people they hate the word.  We use it as a reclaimed word, as an umbrella term.”

School’s Out has had a better response from teachers, schools and counselors in the Hutt Valley than in Wellington, but they are still trying to make sure all secondary students in every school know about them, including by going into schools to talk about homophobia.

“Hutt High has been really good,” she says. “We’ve been into their assemblies.”

She also helps with a support group for students at Upper Hutt College, the Confetti Group.

Student Tory Regan started the Confetti Group, which has about 10 members, because of how she and other queer students were treated.

“At one point, a boy I know got his nose broken because he was openly gay. I myself am openly bisexual and have been since the end of year 8. I’m now year 12. So over that time, I’ve also had a pretty hard time with my sexuality.”

Tory Regan says the group talks about stereotypes, about coming out, and about ways to stop homophobia, and she’s grateful for the support of both school counsellors.

Not all queer students will have negative experiences, but Hannah agrees that many do and that some School’s Out members have been physically assaulted by peers, as well as called names.

Not all students will tell their parents they are queer, as many are scared they will be kicked out of home or be the target of physical violence, which Hannah believes is still all too realistic.

She also says using the word “gay” to mean stupid or uncool – even when it is not directed at queer students themselves – causes distress: “They feel like who they are is not all right.”

School’s Out Hutt meets fortnightly.  If you want to go to know more, call Hannah or Brendon on 027-763-9793 or visit the website: www.bebo.com/queer-schools-out

WHAT THE SCHOOLS SHOULD BE DOING

HIGH schools are now being required to state how they will stop the bullying of lesbian, gay and bisexual students.

Education Review Office three-yearly reviews ask schools to explain their strategies to prevent such behaviour.

School boards have to testify that they provide anti-bullying programmes, and teachers and students will usually be asked how these programmes work.

“We always look at the safe physical and emotional environment,” says Review Office public affairs manager Jenny Clark.  “That’s one of our big things.”

Hannah Ho, co-ordinator of Hutt homosexual support group School’s Out, says the Review Office questions are something schools should be thinking about, if they are not already.

Taita College acting principal Clint Hawke says his school has no specific support group, but would welcome School’s Out coming in to talk to students.

He believes the school supports its queer students, including their attendance at the annual school ball: “Girls have taken girls in the past, boys have taken boys.”

St Bernards College acting principal David Sefton says while the Catholic Church does not condone homosexual activity, his school provides an environment which is safe and supportive for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation.

He does not believe any students had ever wanted to bring a same-sex partner to the school ball.

Hutt Valley High School hosted a support group for gay students in the Hutt Valley for several years up until about five years ago, but it disbanded when group members decided to join Wellington School’s Out.

Guidance counsellor Violet Duguid welcomed School’s Out to the Hutt and says it is probably better not to be based at just one school.

Hutt Valley High has the School’s Out co-ordinators in to talk to all Year 9 classes about diversity, and also includes sexuality in anti-bullying programmes run by students.

At Naenae College, principal John Russell says they have students there who are out and open about it: “People should feel safe.”

He says anti-gay bullying is explicitly mentioned in their anti-bullying policies, and students have brought same-sex partners to the ball.

“We’re totally non-gender specific in terms of who attends school balls. We’re more interested in their behaviour.”

Wainuiomata High School is another school with no problems with students bringing same-sex partners to their school ball.

Guidance counsellor Sue Mortimer says “we have a number of gay students, some are quite open and others are not – we promote that it’s fine whatever you are.  We have same-sex partners coming to the ball.”

Wainuiomata High has an informal “straight-gay alliance” group which meets, and Ms Mortimer says students get a lot of support from their friends, even though they may not all tell their parents.

Their anti-bullying policy includes anti-gay bullying, and she is especially quick to challenge students using “gay” as an insult.

But the hill is a bit of a barrier for Wainuiomata students who might want to go to School’s Out in the Hutt, she says.

Chilton St James and St Orans College declined to respond to NewsWire questions about how they support lesbian, gay and bisexual students.

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is a student journo who loves to write. Her interests, apart from media slavery, include social justice, music, sports and gardening. Preferably a combination of all four. She doesn't know yet what she wants to be when she grows up.
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2 comments
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  1. Something in the article did not quite gel with me: The word “Gay” was subverted by the “non-heterosexual” community in the first place (as was “Queer”), and “using the word ‘gay’ to mean stupid or uncool” is simply the way heterosexuals have inadvertently re-subverted it. When using these words there’s no intention of making “non-heterosexuals” “feel like who they are is not all right.” Anyway, I think everybody should be allowed to share the English language, don’t you?

  2. While you have a point, and the consistant claiming and reclaiming of words is a large problem, the simple fact of the matter is that gay still has a predominantly negative connotation, and a predominantly homosexual connotation. Intent has nothing to do with it. If one calls a japanese person a ‘jap’, they are likely to be offended, even if one had no intention of insulting them. The use of a word should be more dependent on the person -offended- by the word, not by the people saying it

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