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Wednesday the 17th of May was International day against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia. Also known as IDAHOBIT. The best way to describe IDAHOBIT is straight from the IDAHOT website, “it was created in 2004 to draw the attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the public and the media to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally.”
2017 was the first year some of New Zealands politicians from the Parliamentary Rainbow Cross Party group decided to organise something to commemorate the occasion. They worked with local organisations and people to work out what would be most beneficial for our local LGBTI community. I was fortunate enough to be apart of this process and discussions.
We decided to send out a survey and work out some key issues that our community are facing, then have a handful of people fire those key issues with some personal stories to politicians. With it being election year we thought it was important to ask politicians what they’re going to do about these key issues.
I spoke on youth and safety in our schools, particularly around how the education review office is not doing a good enough job at making sure our schools are safe. Over the last few days I have been asked by a handful of people to share my speech, so teachers can hear more about the issues our young people are facing in schools. I thought it would be easier and more beneficial to share it on my blog for public consumption. Give or take a few words/sentences this is what I said.
Tonight I chose to wear black to acknowledge the young lives we have sadly lost to the lack of inclusion support and lgbti education in our schools. Kia ora, my name is Bella and I am a trans advocate, who believes in inspiring and empowering trans people.
Schools have a responsibility to be a safe environment for students. As you have read from this report, this is not the case.
I would like to highlight a key point from this report as well: when students talk about being bullied, this isn’t just from other students. This is also from teachers, deans, support staff and counsellors. These are the adults that are supposed to be there to help support students and make sure that they are safe.
It is important that teachers have professional development to help them learn and understand what some of their students are going through. It is also important that staff put their personal beliefs aside and focus on the student, and what will help the student.
A student shouldn’t have to teach their health teacher and class about how sexuality is fluid and that gender isn’t just male and female. Sexuality and Gender identity are these big beautiful interchanging spectrums and that every identity is valid.
How does this relate to me and my school experience? As a trans women who came out at the end of primary school, I have often been the one educating staff and student. I have had to help support students who weren’t feeling supported by their schools. This is all a lot of responsibility to put onto a young person who just wanted a normal high school experience.
You would think that as time went on and young people felt more comfortable to be themselves, that schools would make an effort to be more educated, understanding, and safe for their students.. But that isn’t the case. Time and time again we see young people fighting and standing up to people in power just to make their high school experience safe and more comfortable. Not just for them but for those around them who don’t have the opportunities or the support to stand up and say if something is not ok.
A simple example is gender neutral bathrooms. Students are working really hard to make them happen in our schools. I know a lot of people are probably thinking, Oh it isn’t that important I don’t know why you’re complaining. From personal experience I can tell you right now, holding on for 12 plus hours is not fun, and I am 100% sure I have bladder complications because of it.
Being trans can mean that sometimes, and by sometimes I mean almost all of the time, public gendered bathrooms are not an option.
We need the government to step up and actually say the Education review office is not doing their job well enough. There are huge aspects of our schools that are not safe for our students. Young people are dying while attending our schools, so why are we ok with that?
On Saturday night as part of Wellington Pride Festival we hosted our very first youth ball. It was a beautiful success and something that wouldn’t have been able to happen without the amazing support of all the volunteers. Rather than just saying it was great and that 150 young people attended, I want to highlight a few key points I’ve learned from the whole experience.
-Young LGBTQIA+ people exist, and they exist in the hundreds. You can deny it all you want and you can try and say youth have enough support but that is just not the case.
-I have worked with a number of the young people who attended the ball over the last couple of years through InsideOUT, and Saturday night was the first time I have seen a lot of them really happy and able to let loose. I saw young people smile, who to be really honest I had never seen smile before. It was so heartwarming and a strong reminder of why these events are so important.
-Safe spaces for young people are vital to keeping our young people alive. These young people often don’t have anywhere else to go. For some of them this was the first time they really got to be themselves, and for others this was one of the few times they could be themselves and be accepted.
-Throughout the whole experience I learned that you have to fight and yell to get your voice heard. I shouldn’t have had to yell to get a space for youth to be highlighted in Pride, but I did, and I didn’t stop till an hour before the ball started.
Personal shout out to the handful of people who I vented to and debriefed to, and who helped support me. If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have survived. Yelling at people to give youth some space is an exhausting job, but someone’s got to do it. Like the wise Tina from Bob’s Burgers once said, “I’m no hero, I put my bra on one boob at a time like everyone else.”
Last year I got to a point where I had said yes so many times that I had no time for myself and I was constantly working for everyone else. At the beginning of this year I made sure that I would focus on me and do the things I wanted to do. I want to make sure that whatever volunteer work I do this year doesn’t overwhelm me, and aligns with my own beliefs and values.
Keeping those things in mind, one of my last big projects I am doing is the youth rep role for Wellington Pride. My goal when setting up the role and joining the committee was to make sure that the committee was a safe space for young people and that in future there wouldn’t need to be a youth rep role because everything Wellington Pride did would just be youth friendly. It wouldn’t mean there wouldn’t be an after party or R18 events, it would just mean that meetings would be held in safe accessible space and young people would be respected and listened to.
Unfortunately these things haven’t occurred, and I stopped attending committee meetings last year in November. I have focused on youth events and the people around me who could support myself and the events we wanted to create.
I’m writing this post to say that I have stepped down from the Wellington Pride committee, and the only events I have had say in are youth based ones I helped organise. Any decisions to do with the Parade or Out In The Park I haven’t had any say in. The one conversation I was vocal in last year was whether corrections should be apart of the parade or not. I have always been against corrections having any place in our Pride events. I resigned before the committee voted on whether they should be a part of Pride or not, and unfortunately it looks like corrections will be walking in the parade. Regardless I hope everyone has a happy and safe Pride.
2016 has been a rollercoaster of a year both on a personal and general level. Personally I have experienced some really amazing highs, but also really bad lows as well. This is what you should expect in life, and it’s how we look after ourselves when we get to those lows that’s really important.
My year started out with a self care holiday, but during this holiday I was also a part of a team organising the ILGA Oceania PROUD conference, and the Youth pre-conference to go with it. So as you can tell, I struggled with the concept of stepping back and relaxing and looking after myself. Luckily as the year progressed that changed, and I got to a point where I needed to step back from things because it was affecting so many other parts of my life.
I don’t really have the time to list out everything I have done this year, but instead I will highlight some key achievements. This way I can talk about the highs and the lows of the year and what I have leant from them.
- I was on the organising team for ILGA Oceania Conference: PROUD 2016. This was an amazing opportunity, because it was the first time I helped organise a major conference on much more of an international platform. It came with a lot of challenges but it was definitely something I enjoyed and learnt a lot from. From this experience I also met so many amazing new people who have helped support me and the work I am doing.
- I met with organisers from Wellington Pride Festival, which I want to highlight. From this meeting several major outcomes have occurred for Wellington Pride Festival. Firstly they now have a range of flags representing an array of identities, not just the rainbow flag. Secondly, it meant I got to join the organising team for Wellington Pride 2017. I got to join as a youth representative and we are currently working towards organising some amazing events for young people.
- I organised and ran the kitchen at Shift Hui which is a national hui run and organised by InsideOUT. Shift Hui 2016 hosted 160 people. This was the first time I had to step back and just accept I couldn’t do everything. I organised and ran the kitchen which went very well, but lots of others things happened and it was very stressful which in turn created a domino effect in my volunteer life.
- I have run several education workshops for various organisations and local groups. These include a national PE and Health conference, workshops at local schools, and the Commonwealth Young Leaders conference: These were all really great opportunities; reaching out to people and educating them and watching the aha! moments never gets old. This is particularly so when working with young people and just seeing them smile and knowing that their identity is valid and being recognised.
- I have attended several conferences in Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, and Bangkok!!! Traveling is always fun, and the fact that I got to go to Bangkok as well was so amazing. Through each trip I have met new people, caught up with old friends, seen spectacular sights, had fun, and done a smidge of shopping. Shout out to my friend Laura (http://nzbloggers.co.nz) who has a bed waiting for me whenever I am in Auckland and is always there to help and support me.
- One of my favourite things is working with people and organisations on what they aren’t doing well and working out ways to strengthen their events. This year I worked with several organisations to help do just that. Of course it is up to each organisation which suggestions they take on board, and while some have not listened, it’s exciting to see where these events and organisations will go in 2017.
- I did a handful of media projects, some were for friends and others were for “mainstream” media outlets. I’m not a fan of the media and sharing my story, but I don’t like the media speaking with and manipulating vulnerable young people so I would rather offer up myself then pass it on to someone else. But even when I do interact with the media, I still feel bad about it and rarely look back on these encounters with happiness.
- I moved into doing lots of governance roles for an array of organisations. I started the year as Treasurer for InsideOUT, then stepped up to Co-chair after a couple of months. It didn’t take long to realise I just couldn’t do as much as I was doing, so I resigned. But since then I have also joined Out Wellington which organises Wellington Pride Festival, and Outerspaces. I have also been supporting other organisations and people setting up new organisations.
- I also won a Youth Changemaker award from the Ministry of Youth Development, which was nice. It was also a little surreal because I don’t do this work for the recognition. I do it to help empower and inspire young trans people, and to remind them that their life is just beginning and that they can do anything they want.
I’ve done so much in 2016, and I am sure that in 2017 I will get to do lots more. I have lots of goals and dreams for this year and I can’t wait to see what happens.
I think a lot about representation of trans identities whether it is in the media, in our own community, or even society. I want to talk about the different sides of this sentence over the next few weeks. I thought the best place to start would be within our own community. I have done a lot of work within the LGBTI community and so I thought I would share my thoughts. These thoughts and impressions are in general, not specific to certain people or organisations.
It always annoys me when LGBTI organisations say they are trans friendly and that they support the trans community when they make as little effort as possible to go about that. They will have minimal trans people as a part of their staff or governing board and when something comes up where the organisation has to speak on trans issues, they will often still ask a cis person to do it. They seem to think it is ok that because they have spoken to trans people they somehow know what it’s like to be trans.
When a trans person has something to say about how something is run and how it isn’t the most inclusive don’t make them feel bad about speaking out. Instead sit down and talk about ways the organisation could do things differently to be more inclusive, work out what the issues are, and make sure that everyone in the organisation is aware that there are issues that they all need to work on. If a trans person says something isn’t inclusive, don’t make it sound like it’s a huge inconvenience to change it. Come up with an action plan and just change it.
Cis people don’t have the right to tell trans people that it’s too much effort to change things or that cis people can speak on behalf of trans people, no matter what the situation is. Trans people are more often than not treated like second class citizens, and an inconvenience to society. When in fact all trans people want is respect and validation that they are a part of this community and that they can be whoever they want. They are never going to get these opportunities if cis people keep speaking up for them.
I’m considered an aggressive person more often than not, particularly because I just stopped sitting quietly and started speaking out. If I see a space where trans youth aren’t being acknowledged I will show up and I will say, “Hey I’m here and I am not leaving quietly.” I might be considered overdramatic, and I might seem like a diva but I just refuse to be ignored and brushed aside. I have 9 years worth of experience, so if I see a problem or an issue I will say something, and I will keep saying something till it is fixed.
There is one thing in particular I’ve noticed over my years in this community, which I thought I would discuss this week. The views I express are my personal thoughts based on real conversations and meetings I have been apart of; these views don’t represent any organisations I am apart of or have been apart of.
There’s this fine line between small and big organisations/businesses asking for help and support to make their events more inclusive and safe for LGBTI people. More often than not though those organisations/business just do as little work as possible to make safe spaces for LGBTI young people, instead they use it as a platform to make them look better. So when you call them out they can say, “actually we’re doing this, but thanks everyone.”
They seem to think LGBTI organisations will do all this work for free, but then they expect the LGBTI organisations to pay money to “create a presence” at their event. This is money that these organisations just don’t have, especially for those organisations that are running on volunteer support.
They also think that out of 50 people speaking at their event that only one LGBTI speaker is totally fine, and that they can accurately speak for all the different letters in the acronym. Then when you call people out on this you’re the bad person. The common excuse of, “well there are lots of minorities and we can’t cater for them all” pops up a lot.
Organisations/businesses have this idea that we want the very best treatment for our LGBTI young people and that we are asking them to do some ridiculously crazy things, when actually what we want is young people to feel safe, included, and respected at your events.
One of the worst things is when you’re all ready to go support an organisation/business but the day before you get an email saying “oh actually don’t worry, we have a gay person who can do it instead.”
Everyone seems to think that it’s acceptable to ask LGBTI organisations to offer their services and time for free. Most times the LGBTI organisations would do something for free because it’s better to support then not to. But really these organisations barely have the funding to have a single staff member, let alone a team of volunteers behind them. The work these LGBTI organisations are doing can quite often be life saving, but everyone just looks over that and says thank for your time, here’s a box of chocolates.
Our voices, knowledge, and experiences are our personal treasures; they are the things we hold closest to us. They can also be some of the hardest things to share with others, but we do it anyway to make sure that young LGBTI people know they aren’t alone, and that there are people who care about them. Organisations/business need to start understanding that and respecting it. It’s not fair to expect these people to open themselves up so everyone can stare and say “well that was very fascinating”.
In life we have choices to make. Those choices could be anything from what to have for breakfast, to what we want to do with our lives. Over my last nine years being out I have had to make a lot of choices. Some of these choices have been do I want to speak about my journey? Do I want to open myself up to the world?
Last year I was asked to be a part of the team to organise Shift Hui 2015 with InsideOUT. I had been out of high school for a year so I needed to do something to help keep me sane and social. After that I kept volunteering and ultimately joined the InsideOUT board as Treasurer. My main reason for wanting to be Treasurer was that it sounded like something a pirate would have been.
I have been given so many amazing opportunities over the last 18 months thanks to InsideOUT: I’ve had dinner with the US Ambassador, spoken at many conferences, ran workshops, pushed for more trans inclusivity in a variety of spaces, and so many more. I also took on the position of Co-Chair alongside my role as Treasurer earlier this year, and it was a lot of fun trying to bring some level of fun into a space that would normally be seen as professional. I would make sure that my treasurer reports were in pink and there was always good food at the meetings.
InsideOUT has given me the platform to grow and spread my knowledge tentacles to so many parts of society. That’s why stepping down from the board was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make in a very long time. I’m doing so many things for so many different organisations, plus trying to look after myself and make sure I can actually hang out and be social with the amazing people I have met over the last few years.
I’m not leaving with bad blood, I know we will be working together again in the future, it’s about looking after me and focusing my energy on other projects that have been put off for far too long. LIKE THIS BLOG!!!!!
Below is a handful of some of my favorite memories with InsideOUT:
This morning on Facebook I got the notification to show me photos and posts I made 1 year ago 2 years ago or what not on this day. Low and behold Facebook reminded me, exactly 2 years ago today I left school early. Below is the photo I uploaded onto Facebook with a little witty status in true Bella form.
“Walking out of school for the last time and the only thing I can think of is how High School Musical gave me unrealistic expectations on what High school was going to be like”
I think it is really important to talk about what it means to leave school early and how it isn’t really the end of the world like everyone assumes. I left in year 13 and I had been wanting to leave for a good couple of months; my grades weren’t great and I just didn’t have a solid social group of friends, which I think is what really makes your last year. I knew that if I left I needed to be smart and proactive – I would need to have a plan and make sure I moved straight into a job. So I got a job at KFC and planned on saving to do a makeup course the next year. Of course my plans changed and I never did the make up course, but I did do a beautician course, which in hindsight I really didn’t want to do. I did it because I wanted to tell people I was actually doing something with my life.
Working at KFC isn’t the most glamorous job, and I know a lot of people looked down on me because I left school early to work at KFC (rude!) but for me, KFC was never my end goal it was just a start. It is also important to remember that even if I was still working at KFC today that it is totally fine, and a completely valid job. I never wanted to stay there though, I couldn’t handle the subtle judgment I got from so many people, including people in my family because I worked there.
Again in true Bella form I quit with a beautiful sympathy card which reads:
Dearest the team at KFC,
Thanks all so much for the great times over the last year and a half. Well as good as KFC gets. Catch you on the flip side.
PS: I quit, hope it was obvious.
I am now an administrator at a great little company, with an awesome boss. I’m also on a couple of different boards and generally just doing my own thing. I don’t regret leaving high school early, and I don’t regret not going to university. I can still wait till I’m a little older and apply for special entrance if I wanted to go to Uni, but I don’t think I do. The point of this post is, if you aren’t enjoying school, then you can leave and still do great things. Everyone says stay in school and they make it sound like you will have a terrible life if you leave early, but I think it is more important to listen to yourself and figure out what is working for you. If school isn’t working then think about what it actually is you want to be doing.
I hope this helps some people if they are struggling at school, because I know school isn’t easy. Sometimes it isn’t even just the classes or the teachers but just the whole social aspect, having to see people everyday thing can be difficult for some.
Follow your dreams, believe in yourself and you can do anything.
Today is Transgender day of visibility, which is nice thank you for that. I have a few issues with it though, which if you know me well enough you will know I always have issues. People will celebrate this day and act super supportive but in reality they aren’t actually doing anything to support the trans community, waving a flag once doesn’t make you supportive, it shows you accept the trans community.
We also need to remember the young people who don’t want to be visible? The young trans people who are struggling to find support in their homes, schools and even communities? There are trans kids who don’t feel safe anywhere, yet there is an expectation that they are going to stand out and proud for transgender day of visibility. Does this honestly sound like a good idea?
I don’t really know what you could do instead, because there is so much that should and could be done. Ask within your local community to see what they need at the time. Or if you have the opportunities to create positive visibility then go for it. But all I ask is remember that the trans community will still need help and visibility after transgender day of visibility.
Today I plan on buying some nice food and just spending a little bit of time to myself. I am super busy at the moment but I think the fact I have survived 8 and a half years is a pretty decent achievement, and one I should celebrate.
Have a delightful day friends, Kia Kaha (Stay Strong) xox
If you need some help because today’s discussions are a little overwhelming here are some people who can help you.
Youthline: 0800 376633
Outline: 0800 6885463