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School's Out! - Peer Sexuality Support at Rosehill College

Wed 6 Dec 2006 In: True Stories View at NDHA

Rosehill College's Janet Milne "I think being a teenager going through the transition into being an adult is an incredibly complex time. Their new thinking and ways of experiencing life are tricky enough, especially in the complicated times we live in. There are huge pressures. And if you think you might be gay on top of that, it can be just overwhelming," says Janet Milne, Student Support Councilor at Rosehill College. Of the 1,850 students at South Auckland's Rosehill College this year, a team of nine trained to become Peer Sexuality Support Programme (PSSP) representatives. The programme involves a small group of Year 12 (Sixth Form) students who are trained to support their peers in making healthy choices in regard to their sexual health and sexuality. Through workshops by specialist organisations like Rainbow Youth, the PSSP team is provided with accurate information and access to resources, and they are taught communication skills so that they can discuss all aspects of sexuality with their peers in a confidential way. These include subjects such as contraception, STI's, pregnancy, and gay and lesbian issues. PSSP is funded from the Auckland District Health Board, through Auckland Sexual Health. Since 1995, Janet Milne has been Student Support Councilor at Rosehill College in South Auckland. This year she sent nine students to the PSSP hui, including two lesbians. Selection of students for the team is very important, she says. “Through networking and shoulder-tapping we can work out which people would be the best for PSSP. It's getting gay/lesbian/bi students on the team, as well as a mix of guys and girls, a mix of ethnic groups - a real cross-section of our school population. Also, we look for students in different friendship groups, since a lot of the work is done informally, within those friendships. "PSSP members are an absolute mine of information in their friendship group, dealing with questions like 'My mate's friend thinks she might be a lesbian, what can she do?' or 'How do I know of I have an sexually-transmitted infection?'" Out of the peer support programme came ‘Aware', a group specifically for GLBT students. It's student-driven, but Milne is there for regular supervision meetings with facilitators, "so they don't have to deal with anything 'big' on their own," she explains. "Next year is going to be more difficult though. I just haven't got a senior for the team who is out as gay, lesbian or bi. I have a young woman who's new to the team - she's a little shier, but hopefully ‘out there' enough to get the connections we need and put the word out.” Milne wants same-sex attracted students to know where to go and who to approach when they want to talk. “If they feel that they're gay, and they feel like they're different from everybody else, thinking ‘my mates are getting turned on by girls, but I'm not, what's wrong with me?' “We don't want them to feel isolated and desperate, like ‘oh my goodness, is there anybody else in this whole school who is like me?' So it's just getting the message out there that there is support and that we can help. As a councilor, Milne is aware of research about youth depression and suicide - and that being gay is a significant factor in them. “So this is a risk group, and it's imperative we make those connections. It takes that risk down a lot. People need to be connected - we do not do well by ourselves.” One young man in particular made Milne hugely aware of what young gay students go through. “This young man didn't want to do sport, he wasn't rough and he was very gentle. He came to us from another school where he'd been bullied. I knew he might be gay when he was 13, and he came out a couple of years later. He was really surprised at my reaction when he told me - I didn't faint, I was like ‘yeah, so?' He was Middle-Eastern, so coming out to his family was a big issue. “We were able to grow his confidence bit by bit, until he was a gorgeous butterfly in the HERO parade!” Milne says it would be absolutely unrealistic to think there's no homophobia at her school. “Because there is. There's homophobia in all society. Perhaps some people aren't getting a model of acceptance and tolerance at home. “I've had to keep pushing to get the team introduced here, for young people to be able to access this stuff - not just about gay and lesbian stuff, but sexuality in general. But now there's a real trust in the work we're doing.” PSSP is just one of a number of student-driven mentoring programmes at Rosehill. “We also have ‘D.A.R.E. to be different', which is standing against drugs, and ‘One World', which was standing against harassment. So the school is hugely supportive of student leadership. Empowering young people and trusting them to be doing responsible and good work.” Milne doesn't feel most schools are doing enough work around supporting LGBT students. “I've heard one Principal say ‘There aren't any gay kids in my school.' So there are still those kinds of attitudes, and I think schools get very worried about what the community might think. Like if you talk about gay students, that gayness might somehow be contagious! “But I've had quite a few schools contact me asking how we've managed to set up ‘Aware'.” Rutherford College and Takapuna Grammar have also held PSSP programmes. “So we've been a pilot school, looking at what's possible,” says Milne. “And I've noticed a change since we've had the PSSP team. It's about really looking at how we can have understanding and knowledge about different people and attitudes.”     Matt Akersten - 6th December 2006

Credit: Matt Akersten

First published: Wednesday, 6th December 2006 - 12:00pm

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