Kassie Hartendorp is a member of the Workers Party, and delivered this speech as a part of Queer The Night 2012. The Workers Party will be holding a talk on queer liberation and socialism as part of our Socialism 2012 conference.
Kia ora whanau,
My name is Kassie and I work for School’s Out, a queer youth organisation, and I am also a member of the Queer Avengers . I’m here speaking to you today, because I want to really drive home that the experiences of the youth up here tonight are not isolated cases.
The whole reason that queer youth support organisations exist is due to the fact that our schools, our families and our communities are not always safe places to come out as a queer or questioning teenager. Our entire existence is based on the fact that so many of our youth and adults, are still unaccepted, marginalised, or treated as second class to heterosexual or cis-gender people.
As a youth worker, I see many of the younger generations coming through with a confidence that even I, as a 22 year old find absolutely inspirational. When I was young, even going to a queer group was too terrifying for me, let alone starting a Queer Straight Alliance, or standing up at a march in front of so many people.
But there are some who haven’t quite reached that confidence yet, or have to go through hell to get there. I’m talking about the youth that do experience verbal or physical abuse for being or just appearing queer, or who get forced or kicked out of their homes with nowhere to go. I’m talking about the youth who turn to self-harm, or drugs and alcohol to cope. I’m also talking about the youth who have to go through the very basic fear of coming out to those they don’t know, and more scarily, the ones they do know. I’m talking about those who leave school because of bullying or unacceptance, and I’m talking about the ones who take their own lives.
Now these are big issues we’re dealing with. Big issues that require a lot of a support, right? And these are only with the youth that feel confident or are connected enough to be able to reach us in the first place. We don’t know how many slip under the radar, as family secrets, isolated and unsupported.
Now, many of our schools won’t let School’s Out in to try and create environments that accept and affirm queer identities. It’s funny, they tell us they have no gays here. That’s just bad math. Statistically, you’re gonna have queers present, but you have created an environment where not one feels safe enough to express their sexuality. But at the moment, no one is holding these schools to account.
Members of School’s Out went to meet with local gay MP, Grant Robertson last year to discuss the issue of homelessness in queer youth, which has taken a sharp increase not just here, but in Auckland as well, over the past year. After asking advice on how to find emergency housing from a parliamentary representative and fellow queer, we were told that there was nothing he could do or that we could do. He then referred us on to a known transphobic service where we were abruptly sent away.
The Queer Avengers also had a meeting with senior advisers from the Ministry of Education, where those on the other side of the table, told us that they didn’t have the powers, or rather, the motivation to make our schools safer places. They can’t tell schools what to do, they say. But they are more than willing to bully schools around when it comes to national standards, they’re just not willing to do anything when queer youth are taking their own lives. They say “it’s just the system.” Well we’re here to say, your system isn’t fucking working.
You know, we shouldn’t have to be fighting these fights, we shouldn’t have to be watching youth go through the hardest time in their lives as a queer, when it should be a time when they are learning who they are, growing and developing in a positive way that affirms their identities. It’s not too much to ask, and maybe we wouldn’t be asking it, if we had those in power accepting that we need to have the resources to get up there on that damn cliff, miles before the edge, with some warmth, understanding and acceptance, rather than standing at the bottom waiting for them to all drop off one by one, hoping to hell that you’re there in time to cushion their fall. And more often, you’re not.
Now all that we have had to rely on, over the decades, is each other. The responsibility for looking after ourselves is mostly done through our communities together. We can’t rely on a broken system, that even if it got its act together and stopped cutting important social services, and putting through bills like the 90 Day Hire and Fire Bill which all have a negative impact on our most vulnerable; it would still be fundamentally broken at the end of the day. We have queer MPs in the House, we’ve had legislation like the Homosexual Law Reform Act: WHY ARE WE STILL HERE TODAY?
We need a two-tier movement that yes, works in Parliament, but also is on the ground, demanding for more than the meagre hand we have been dealt. We need strong queer groups, and solid straight alliances. Furthermore, we need to support and give solidarity to women’s groups, Maori groups, Pasifika groups, Asian groups, unions, groups spread across the community that understand oppression, because we can’t do this on our own.
Lastly, I wanna tautoko all the volunteers for places like School’s Out, Tranzform and other queer organisations across the country. I wanna thank the Gay Wellington Welfare Group and the wider queer community for its continuous support in helping us out. I wanna thank the organisers for not being afraid to get out there and say what needs to be said, and all of you for coming here tonight in support. It makes me feel like I know, that with a bit of work, things are gonna get better.