As you may or may not know, I have been running the LGBTQI group at Avondale College called “Rainbow Club”. I started here at the beginning of the year. I have really enjoyed getting to know the students who attend this group and hang out with them every week. Six months into the year, I would like to give you a brief update on how the group is going.
Just a few things to note first:
– This is not a therapy group, just a safe hang out place for students to come, meet others and get support around their sexual identity. We have a Strengths Based approach.
– Queer or same sex attraction is not a Pathology. In the year 2015 it is a human right to be called what you want and be referred to by any pronoun you want.
So – onto the update:
– Re-branded. The problem was – “Diversity Group” was getting confused with the cultural diversity group. So I got the students to brainstorm a new name for the group. we voted. Rainbow Club was the winner.
– Culture Change. I wanted to create a really cool culture, a place which isn’t embarrassing or too intense. I am happy to report our group culture is cool and the youth love to come and hang out. Although it is a school environment, I am not a teacher, therefore students can express themselves as they would like. There is no punitive approach here. This is a strengths approach. I also encourage the students to respond with a positive approach when supporting each other around bullying. There is no point responding negatively back to student’s bullying.
– Growth! Our group has more than tripled in size! Yes we only started with 6 kids, but now we have 24! I am stoked. Avondale College has like 2800 students. So I know there are more out there. Students have been coming out to me in counselling who don’t even know about Rainbow Club. The group has grown by two ways. 1 – word of mouth from the current members, and 2 – I attended some assemblies to let the students know about our group (More on this later).
– Demographics. We have a good ratio of students. A transgender boy and transgender girl – both who came out during their attendance at this group. The rest – a balance of transfluid, A- gender, female and male (apologies if I have written this incorrectly). Although we mainly have year 9’s and 10’s attending the group, some senior students are starting to trickle in. In regards to culture, so far we have approximately 30% NZ European, 20% Asian/Indian, 10% Pacific, 30% North American, 10% other.
– Increased Connection. Students who have attended Rainbow Club have found common interests and developed friendships/ relationships outside of school. We also had Morgan from Rainbow Youth come in and talk with the group, and some students have attended Rainbow Youth since then.
– Education, support and current affairs. We often talk about LGBTQI related stuff happening in the media/social media as well as we watch cool, encouraging videos such as Ted Talks – Oi Tillet Wright’s Fifty Shades of Gay. The whole point is to empower the young people and let them know they aren’t alone and that there is nothing wrong with them.
Plans for further growth…
– Student support/ mentors. I want to appoint a couple of older students to be mentors and help run our group. It is always beneficial when students take ownership of the group and can help those from what they have been through themselves.
– Changing the culture within the school. After doing some year level assembly notices, students responded with laughter…although the response is normal (they feel uncomfortable), there were still some students who came to the group as a result. Unfortunately I have been asked not to do any more notices to year assemblies. This is a shame as a lot of students need the support and they don’t know Rainbow Club exists. Also, we thought it can’t hurt to increase student’s and staff’s knowledge and understanding of sexual identity and queer youth’s rights within the school. We are currently putting a proposal together for the school to do some sexual identity workshops with students and staff. The purpose – to educate and increase understanding and support to these students and build a more accepting and open culture. I really hope it is approved to go ahead.
– Future agency visits and connection with other high school’s LGBTQI groups. I want to continue to connect and equip students by bringing supportive external agencies in to speak to our group. One planned is CADS youth service (my previous work) – they have a same sex attraction clinician who specializes in LGBTQI youth and drug and alcohol use.
So in conclusion. it is my privilege to be running this group, actually it is the highlight of my week. I have managed to see a lot of these students for counselling as well, because we already have the relationship from the group. We never had anything like this when I was at school, so society has come a long way. Although I have a lot to learn, I am excited to see what develops for the rest of the year. Please feel free to post positive comments or ask questions. Thanks!