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Meet John Kingi

Wed 6 Jul 2011 In: Community View at Wayback View at NDHA

Rainbow Youth's new Chair knows just what it's like to come out as a teenager and is passionate about keeping up the fabulous work the queer youth support group is doing for others who are walking the same path. John Kingi, 20, has been elected the Chair of the Auckland-based organisation, after two years on the Board. The third year Arts student and gym bunny has been involved in a number of organisations, which he has stepped away from to concentrate on Rainbow Youth. He was first urged to stand for Rainbow Youth's by now former Chair Toni Reid and an Adult Advisor, when he was a volunteer bucket shaker at the screening event for the finals night of Dancing With The Stars (which gay weatherman Tamati Coffey won, raising money for Rainbow Youth). "I guess they saw my bucket shaking skills," he laughs, "and thought I could offer something to the Board." He had been introduced to Rainbow Youth when he was 16 and came out at school. "I went to a school in West Auckland so it was kind of big news," he says. "My guidance counsellor just called me into his office one day and was like 'I'm going to take you somewhere', in the middle of the school day. And he brought me into Rainbow Youth. I think that's the most fantastic thing for a school guidance counsellor to do, to know about Rainbow Youth and to bring someone in like that. I really believe in what we do, in creating that environment where young people can feel comfortable about who they are, and providing that support and advocacy." Kingi says he has been lucky, as he has a lot of great friends and a supportive family. "I sort of have a dream story really. But then I know there are some young people out there who don't have that sort of experience. I still faced homophobia at high school, and it was because I had that support and that understanding of those people around me that I was able to deal with that. So the fact Rainbow Youth provides that for people unlike me, who don't have those support groups, I really believe in the importance of that." He says being Chair is a huge honour and a big responsibility, and he is looking forward to working with the new Board, which he describes as highly-energetic. "But I also want to pay tribute, and share my respect and admiration to Toni Reid who was the Chair for the entire time that I was on the Board. She's been a huge support and great asset for our organisation. I'm going to miss those Board members who have moved on. But I'm really excited about what this new board can do." Kingi takes the helm on the back of an incredibly successful Kazam! hui, where queer young people from across the country gathered for a long weekend of fun solidarity and learning, allowing them to form and strengthen networks and just feel part of a community. "It's hard to put into words how successful Kazam! was," Kingi says. "We had been planning to have a national hui since Out There disappeared, from not getting funding. For the two years I have been on the board we've been talking about having a national hui. So to see that come to life, after all the discussions, all the strategy planning ... it was amazing seeing more than 200 young people all together, just being themselves." He says the hui was epitomised for him by a young person who approached him and exclaimed "I'm not special, we're all different – I'm used to being the person everyone looks at and here I'm just one of the crowd!" Kingi says Rainbow Youth is in a unique position as it has community presence and is well-known, so it can forge a national voice around queer youth issues. He says what was fabulous about Kazam! was that that it brought together a number of queer youth organisations from around the country, and he was able to meet members of their boards and their facilitators for the first time. "We're trying to create collaboration between our organisations, because we're all working towards the same goal. I think there's definitely scope for Rainbow Youth to take a leading role in terms of trying to bring all these different stakeholders together, so that we can work collaboratively to achieve national results." Bullying, obviously, is an issue Kingi is hot on, saying Rainbow Youth works hard on and channels a lot of resources into its education programmes in schools, trying to create an atmosphere were diversity is accepted. "It is a priority for us. And there is a lot of work being done, not just by us but by a lot of organisations," he says, citing the recent national schools tour arranged by Q-Youth's Seb Stewart, who went on the road with Olympian Blake Skjellerup to encourage queer-straight alliances in schools. Kingi is buoyed by the response from Parliament on the issue, particularly gay Green MP Kevin Hague's recent heartfelt address, and the meeting Prime Minister John Key held with representatives of Q-Youth and Rainbow Youth following the Pink Shirt Day letter writing campaign. "From the response that [Key] gave, I think that it's definitely on the political agenda. So the fact that this is becoming an issue politicians are seeing as being serious, I think that's really important ... so we are going to keep prioritising this issue and doing something about it." Kingi points out he is just one member of the Board, but personally has a few key routes he wants to follow, the first being looking into how the community can better support Rainbow Youth. "We simply can't sustain the huge growth we have. At the moment we have four staff members, the most we've ever had and our capacity's the greatest it's ever been. But for us to sustain that we really need to have support from the community." He says many people are willing to contribute and wants to look at ways to make that simple. "Also, I want to start a discussion, and it might be a little bit controversial, about the location of our centre. Because as we grow, the space that we're in, well it's pretty jam-packed in there for our staff," he says. "Also, K' Rd is changing. We've got that new Calendar Girls [strip cub] which has opened. So it's really about looking at whether it's the most appropriate place for our organisation."     Jacqui Stanford - 6th July 2011

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Wednesday, 6th July 2011 - 2:09pm

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