IDAHOBIT 2017

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?

Some of the amazing speakers and organisers.

 

2017 Youth Ball

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.”

 

Wellington Pride Festival

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.

 

I signed up to support Pride to create new and exciting events like Drag Queen Story time.

Trans Representation: The Community

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.

#TransWomenInPower  #TransMenInTheKitchen

One day this table will be filled with cis people, and I'll be in charge.
One day this table will be filled with cis people, and I’ll be in charge.

Professional Tokenism

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.

 

Me walking away from tokenising organisations.
Me walking away from tokenising organisations.

 

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.”

The face I normally give to people who don't realise how rude they are being.
The face I normally give to people who don’t realise how rude they are being.

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”.

 

Me using my platform to be inclusive and talk about how that looks.
Me using my platform to be inclusive and talk about how that looks.

 

Choices, and looking after yourself.

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:

Dinner with the US ambassador was highlight.
Dinner with the US ambassador was highlight.
Helping on the radio show, even if I didn't know what i was doing.
Helping on the radio show, even if I didn’t know what I was doing.
Getting the chance to attend lots of fancy events in parliament was always fun.
Getting the chance to attend lots of fancy events in parliament was always fun.
I will always be proud of the "volunteer cult" photo's we would take.
I will always be proud of the “volunteer cult” photo’s we would take.