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Youth groups hold 'positive' meeting with PM

Fri 27 May 2011 In: New Zealand Daily News View at Wayback View at NDHA

Left to right: Seb Stewart, Blake Skjellerup, Prime Minister John Key, Tabby Besley, Thomas Hamilton Representatives of queer New Zealand youth have met with Prime Minister John Key and asked him to support their education programmes and Queer Straight Alliance Networks, and say the meeting was a positive experience. The Beehive meeting was a result of a Pink Shirt Day anti-bullying campaign that was the work of Auckland's Rainbow Youth and Nelson's Q-Youth, which resulted in more than 3,000 letters being sent to Key. Members of both groups met with the Prime Minister along with out Olympian Blake Skjellerup, who has become an ambassador for young queer New Zealanders and anti-bullying. They shared their findings from the Pink Shirt Day campaign and asked the Prime Minister for his support on several issues. Q-Youth Executive Director Seb Stewart says there is growing concern for the plight of queer youth in our schools. "The disproportionate bullying experienced by queer young people in our schools has largely gone under the radar. The Youth 07 Report, by Auckland University, highlights the concerning levels of depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse, self harm and suicide experienced by queer young people. It is encouraging that the Prime Minister is indicating his willingness, on behalf of the Government, to address these important issues." Rainbow Youth Executive Director Thomas Hamilton told the Prime Minister he would like him to endorse the support group's education program. Aimed at students, teachers, youth workers, health professionals and whanau, it is a tool that can be adaptable to any work or family environment. He says the aim of the education package is to clarify the difference between sexuality and gender identity and also recognise validity of these identities within heteronormative society. "It is a relief to know that some of the key issues we face every day at work he was willing and able to listen too, that was a gift. I just hope we succeeded in harnessing and sharing the huge voice of our queer and trans youth with him effectively," Hamilton says of the meeting. Stewart and Q-Youth's Youth Representative Tabby Besley asked Key for his endorsement of the newly formed Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) Network. The idea of the group is to support and establish the creation of student driven diversity groups in New Zealand high schools. "Student led groups are the best way to bring about a culture change from within the school. Strong leaders in the school, queer and straight, make a public stand against discrimination and bullying. The support of the straight students, especially the boys, is important in setting a culture in which people are valued for who and what they are," Stewart says. "The Prime Ministers desire to address youth suicide in New Zealand and his acknowledgement of the plight of queer youth in particular is encouraging," he adds. Overall the group found the meeting with the Prime Minister a positive experience. They say they are excited that he sees the value in the work they are undertaking and hope that this is the start of a new partnership on queer youth issues between the groups and the government. Besley says the meeting was a great outcome to the 3,000 plus letters sent on Pink Shirt day. "It is empowering for queer youth around New Zealand to know that the Prime Minster is listening to their message, and that he understand their concerns." Skjellerup says the overall experience has almost been like a fairy tale. "The Pink Shirt Day campaign was a huge success and the follow up with the Prime Minister was an ideal outcome. To have an audience with him, and to be discussing such important issues pertaining to the development and future of youth in this country is extremely comforting."    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Friday, 27th May 2011 - 4:54pm

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