express talks to RainbowYOUTH’s Executive Director Frances Arns about 30 years of providing support for LGBTIQ youth and how Aotearoa has progressed during that time.
How has the role that RainbowYOUTH (RY) plays in the community adapted over these 30 years?
RY started its life as ALGY (Auckland Lesbian and Gay Youth), created as a social space for LGBTIQ+ youth away from the bar scene that dominated (and continues to dominate) as the social space for Rainbow communities.
RY today continues to provide social spaces that are drug, alcohol and smoke-free, and this is a big part of our kaupapa. Alongside this, we provide a range of support services for young people, their friends and whānau and wider communities. We’ve expanded outside of Auckland, and have services across the North Island and are supporting work in the South Island.
What draws young people to RY in 2019 and how has that changed throughout the decades?
I think that the fundamental thing that draws young people to RY hasn’t changed in our 30 years. It’s a place to come and be yourself (or figure out who that is) without judgement. It’s a safe space to make friends and just be an LGBTIQ+ young person outside of a world that can be challenging to grow up in.
I went into the drop-in centre and asked some of the young people what brings them to RY, their answers ranged from: free WiFi, possibility of food and spinny chairs, to the community wardrobe and free sanitary items, and comments like “a home away from home,” and a “beacon of education for topics that schools just don’t teach you about.”
How have the issues facing young people in the rainbow community adapted in RY’s 30 years and what do you feel are the most pressing issues they are facing now?
There’s a general awareness about homophobia now – the swift backlash against Israel Folau’s comments highlighted this, but there’s much more work to do eradicating transphobia and intersexism. Many of the young people that access RY services are gender diverse and/or trans, and we see first hand the many challenges they face growing up in Aotearoa. Making affirming healthcare accessible for our communities is a huge issue. Schools continue to be a challenging environment for many Rainbow young people. All of these issues are amplified for young people in rural or remote areas of Aotearoa, where attitudes tend to be more conservative than in cities.
How does RY connect with young members of our rural communities?
We have peer support groups running in some rural communities such as Stratford and Kawerau, where young people can meet other like-minded young people in a safe and inclusive environment… We have a project called ‘I’m Local’ where we provide RY resources to social services, health services, community centres etc, to create visibility and awareness in rural communities, and make sure that young people know how they can get in touch with us.
What does RY hope to achieve over the next 30 years?
I would love to see our focus move from support to youth development, as the discrimination and barriers that Rainbow young people face are minimised. I hope that we will see some structural and large scale attitude changes in the next 20-30 years that means this focus can shift, and we can be a place for Rainbow young people to spend time, make friends and learn new skills. I would love for us to have a truly national presence, in collaboration with the other Rainbow organisations around the country, so young people can access community no matter where they are in Aotearoa.
What are RY’s top goals to achieve in the near future?
A big focus for us continues to be expanding our reach and our services into regional areas of Aotearoa. In 2019 and 2020 we will focus specifically on Bay of Plenty, Taranaki and Northland. We’ve also signed MoU’s this year with Dunedin Pride and Waikato Queer Youth, to support their work in Otago and Waikato respectively.
We’re working to make our services relevant for Māori and Pasifika youth and their whānau. We’ve just created a role for a Kaihautū to help deliver our action plan to progress RY towards being a bicultural organisation. In addition, we are focussing on providing intersectional services, such as creating a peer support group for Asian youth and we recently completed a Be. Accessible assessment, and now have an action plan to greatly improve the accessibility of our space
Developing our volunteer opportunities. We have lots of young people that volunteer with RY, and lots of older folks from the community who want to help too. We’re working on creating more volunteer opportunities, better recognising and rewarding our volunteers, and making sure that we provide them with professional development opportunities so that they can learn and grow through their role with us.
You can celebrate RainbowYOUTH successes with them at their 30th Birthday Gala, hosted by Eli Matthewson on Thursday 6 June at Auckland’s Maritime Room. Visit www.ry.org.nz for more details.