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Small acts have a huge impact, Prime Minister

6 November 2012

Small acts have a huge impact, Prime Minister

In defending his use of the word ‘gay’ as a derogatory term, Prime Minister John Key is belittling a vulnerable group of young people. PPTA’s Rainbow Taskforce responds in an open letter:

Dear Prime Minister,

For the past two years PPTA's Rainbow Taskforce has worked to develop a programme to educate secondary teachers about the challenges lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex youth face in classrooms and on the playing fields of our schools.

We educate our teachers about the troubling statistics that show LGBTI youth are massively over represented in alcohol, drug and self-harm figures. Perhaps most disturbing is that they are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their non-LGBTI classmates.

Because we want teachers to leave feeling they can make a difference, our focus has become to challenge homophobic language - as we would sexist or racist language in our classrooms. The fact is most teachers feel comfortable challenging racist and sexist language but find it harder to challenge the language which marginalises LGBTI youth.

Specifically, we ask our teachers to think about how they use the word 'gay'. So we are saddened to hear the leader of our country not only use this homophobic language but then explain it away with, "young people use it all the time, I don't think too many people would be offended by it."

What's important is that, although you have indeed lent support to many issues that affect LGBTI youth, you are perpetuating the harmful use of such a simple word. It is useful to liken it to the use of the word 'hori' only a generation ago, meaning much the same thing, and to think of the impact this had on a generation of Maori who also struggled as adolescents in our schooling system. By and large we have moved on from using this term, as we hope we will move from using 'gay' in this way.

We would encourage you to think about the wider implications of your use of this word and the effect it has on a vulnerable group of young people. We will continue to work hard to try to educate others and show they can make a big difference with such a small act.


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