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Conference calls for end to bullying of queers*

09 June 2005

Conference calls for end to bullying of queers* in schools

A campaign to increase safety for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and teachers in schools will be launched at a national conference in Wellington, June 11 and 12, 2005.

The campaign, SS4Q, is an initiative that has brought together a number of prominent organisations and individuals including: The New Zealand AIDS Foundation, Rainbow Youth, the Human Rights Commission, the Post Primary Teachers’ Association, Out There and the Family Planning Association.

SS4Q spokesperson Sarah Helm said a recent study found that 34 per cent of non-heterosexual students did not feel safe in school most of the time.

“This is one of the biggest human rights issues facing the queer community – young people’s right to go to school and be treated with respect and dignity.

The study of 10,000 secondary students also showed that 13 per cent were being bullied at least once a week.

“This kind of harassment makes a huge dent in a young person’s self esteem and mental health.”

Some young people had been physically abused and spat on.

“The PPTA has told us that many gay teachers don’t feel safe being out.

“If they don’t feel safe, how can students?”

Ms Helm said that the purpose of such initiatives was to promote health and wellbeing by building supportive environments in New Zealand schools for non-heterosexual youth and staff.

“This is keeping with the Ottawa (Health) Charter which shows that creating supportive environments enhances the ability for individuals and communities to engage in healthy behaviour and build resilience to self-harm behaviours including unsafe sex, drug and alcohol abuse.

Some schools had made changes to be more inclusive of gay and transgender youth but there is also the issue of staff.

The conference will cover issues with the curriculum, policies and teacher training, as well as establishing diversity groups in schools.

“Diversity groups or gay/straight alliances have been tremendously successful in increasing queer students feelings of belonging in a school.”

Diversity groups have already been implemented in several schools nationally.

Australian gay activist Rodney Croome will speak on their positive changes within the Tasmanian state education department.

“Tasmania has an anti-homophobia and anti-trans-phobia policy, and all of their staff and students are going through anti-homophobia training.

“It might sound surprising, but New Zealand is a long way behind Tasmania on this issue,” Ms Helm says.

More than 150 people are expected to attend.

*Queer is a reclaimed word used to describe lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, fa'afafine, takatapui people. We acknowledge that it is not a word that all people associate themselves with.

ENDS

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