Article Title:Gay, 15 and living in Gore
Category:True Stories
Author or Credit:Jacqui Stanford
Published on:14th April 2011 - 09:12 am
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Story ID:10234
Text:Surely life doesn't get much tougher for a 15-year-old New Zealander than being openly gay and living in Gore. Sarcastically dubbed the “Gay Capital of New Zealand” thanks to a little mischief from Havoc and Newsboy more than a decade ago, the Southland town remains about as far from the freedom of K' Rd and the safety net of Rainbow Youth as you can get. But it is in Gore that Jimmy* on some days flourishes, on other days lives, and on some days survives. “Have you ever been to Gore,” he asks me laughing. I tell him I drove through it, once, and he giggles “Are you serious? Why would an Auckland person drive through Gore?” Jimmy chats to me on his cell as he walks back to his flat after school, making it clear Pink Shirt Day is a day that means the world to him. He is on the Student Committee and Board of Trustees and has pushed for his school to have a mufti day to mark it, so people could wear pink and take a stand against bullying if they wished. The high-profile media coverage of school bullying has helped his cause, he has the Head Girl's backing and his school has plans to tackle the issue next term But because the school is starting its push against bullying next term, Jimmy's principal ruled out holding a mufti day on Pink Shirt Day. “I was a bit pissed off because I want to do it on the national day for New Zealand,” he says. But that obstacle isn't stopping him entirely – he is going to wear a pink shirt and pink undies beneath his uniform. Jimmy started suffering from depression when he was 13 and it has been a rough two years, of self-harm and even at one stage being misled and targeted by creeps and paedophiles on Bebo as he quickly learned to judge safe boundaries. “I was going downhill. I struggled. I sometimes felt like I was on a staircase, going up two stairs and down one. Some days at school I'd just get pushed and go over the top, and I'd either scream at them and go psycho or I'd go home and self-harm.” Most days he is by himself. “I see myself as being the bee in the swarm. I can go for a week without talking,” he confides. “This was more last year when I was depressed, this year I'm more open and not as depressed. But the bullying at our school, the bullying at all schools, is not nice.” But then again he has more than 900 Facebook friends. Social networking has helped him find other gay people, most of who are in the North Island, but he found two people who were queer in his local area who have introduced him to others. Jimmy's story probably strikes to the heart and memory of anyone who grew up in small town New Zealand. It has been a tough journey to self-acceptance, through depression and self-harm. Yet it sure sounds like he's making a difference in Gore. Jimmy has been helped by Auckland-based support group Rainbow Youth and is hoping to travel north for the Kazam Queer Youth Hui in June, if it doesn't clash with modelling commitments, as he sows the seeds for a hopeful eventual career path. He says Southland has nothing but a parent support group, which hasn't been much use to him personally. He has had help from the school counsellors and out of school counsellors, and has been part of a mentoring programme. “I have learnt so much through depression. Depression, it makes you stronger. When they say it on the ads, it is true. And being 15, I know go through the school and express to people ‘depression does help to make you stronger'. I understand myself much better now.” Education, he believes, is the answer. “If everyone understood about homophobia it would change. I'm trying to push to get teaching about the sexuality programmes, to teach people about homosexuality. I'm going to get that going. If people know about it they won't be scared about it. And that's all homophobia and bullying and stuff is.” Gore is a town Jimmy understandably plans to get out pretty quickly when he finishes school. He wants to move to Christchurch or Auckland and continuing modelling and perhaps become a hairdresser. Jimmy also likes the idea of working for radio station The Edge, where bisexual celebrity Mike Puru is a host. “When I found out he was gay, I was so proud. He's from Gore. And just to know he's walked the same corridors I'm walking now. He's been an inspiration. I've talked to him on Facebook etc and just knowing someone else has been through the same corridor as me." He says the bullying is getting better, but it's not just him, there are plenty of others who are picked on.  Jimmy is who we are wearing pink for today. He and all the kids like him who struggle to get through the day in the face of ignorance and bullying all because of their difference. And he in turn is wearing pink, under his uniform, for others like him too. “Just stand up and be proud,” he says to those in the same boat. “Keep busy,” is his advice. “Be on school committees, be on the Board of Trustees, go out and play sport – I find if it gets too much I have to go for a run, and just run. Keep busy. It does help. And if you get depressed, get help.” He understands that some people don't want to come out just yet because they're just not ready, but explains his battles have helped him survive. “I'm getting stronger. And it does get better. I'm just reiterating what everyone else is said, but I totally agree. It does get better and it will get better. I still have hell with my parents, but I just keep thinking to myself ‘it will get better eventually'. I dream of the day when I get to go out clubbing and become a drag queen. I dream of that. And I just know that one day's it's going to happen.” *Name changed at the subject's later request.     Jacqui Stanford - 14th April 2011
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