October and September were big months for me. There were meetings in gelato shops and cafes until 8pm. Going to school on the weekend. Editing posters until 11:30 pm. Endless emails and to do lists. But it all paid off. Myself and some friends produced the first ever LGBT+ Pride week at our all girls high school.
The idea came to my friend months ago. What can we do to show that their are queer students at our school and that we support them? How do we make sure everyone knows about it? Who can we get to help us with this? And then it was decided. The week was to run from the 5th to the 9th of September in alignment with New Zealand’s Day of Silence.
The planning for the week probably could have started sooner but we got there none the less. The group of friends I worked with are the leaders of our schools Queer Straight Alliance that started up in late 2015, and because of our close ties I got roped into the work towards Pride week.
On the Sunday before the beginning of the week, we came into school and decorated it head to toe in rainbows and pride flags. We were even granted permission from our amazing principal to fly a rainbow pride flag up our school flag pole, which looks over our city and can be seen from afar.
The biggest event of the week was our members of parliament panel. In the NZ government we have many out MPs who are open and comfortable speaking about their experiences. We nervously called their offices, emailed their assistants, and I even tweeted one MP in attempt to get in contact with him. In the end we got down to three. Lousia Wall from the Labour Party. In 2013 Louisa introduced the successful marriage amendment bill into parliament. Jan Logie from the Green Party, who created a cross-party advisory committee to focus on LGBTQIA+ issues. And Grant Robertson, Labour Party. Grant has often had his sexuality dragged into his political career, one NZ news site running the headline, “Gay prime minister may be a step too far” when he announced his running in 2013.
We talked with them about their experiences being out in parliament and politics, about what Pride means to them and what they’d like to see change in NZ Law in regards to supporting LGBT+ people. We invited these politicians because it was an option to see what it is like to be queer and therefore support queer issues in politics. The event was very successful with high praise from all students, teachers and MPs who attended. Also possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
Our schools senior leading team and teachers were extremely supportive towards the week and all it’s events. During the week we all had teachers coming up to ask how we thought the week was going, sharing their thoughts on different events that we’d held and sharing stories of positive discussion from students in relation to the week during class time. For the final day of the week we had teachers and support staff wear as much colour as they could to show support for the week.
Each day had an event attached to it. On Monday lunch we presented an online quiz on LGBT+ terms, celebrities, etc and our MP event was held after school. Tuesday we showed a moving short film called Trans-mormon and provided free popcorn. Rainbow bracelet making took place on Wednesday and when I took the bus home after school that day I saw a student wearing one and was quite humbled. About 40 students came to both the short film and the bracelet making, our school being roughly 1000 students. Thursday was our rainbow bake sale with colourful cakes and cookies alike, and we made over $300 from this which will go to Pride week 2017 and cover some of the costs of this years Pride week.
Friday was a little bit different. In New Zealand there is a non-government organization called Inside Out who work with youth, family, schools and communities to make NZ a safer place for young people of all minorities, sexualities, and genders. The Day of Silence, a day that is run internationally but is spearheaded by Inside Out in NZ. It is “a day of action in which students across the country vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, name-calling and harassment in schools.” We had about 50 students (and 2 teachers!!) participate in this, some who are apart of our QSA and many who are not. We broke the silence at lunch time by stating something we were proud of.
This week holds great importance to me. It was a social and political statement. Pride week was an acknowledgement and recognition of identities that are often erased or seen as lesser. The week brought me so much joy, I’ve never had the chance to go to an actual Pride festival and for my first experience of Pride to be in my high school is something I could’ve never imagined or predicted. I think there are many other students, younger than me, who feel the same.
New Zealand is getting there. There are people here doing the hard, good and important work. But as a society and a country we still have a long way to go. I’ve seen Facebook posts of gay men getting beat up in the city central, we have a 50 (yes, 50) year waiting list for those wishing to have sexual reassignment surgery and we are still working to pardon those persecuted before the homosexual law reform.
I need to take some time to feel good about this achievement of Pride week, before standing up and continuing the fight.