SS4Q Conference July 6-7 2007

15 August, 2007 (11:21) | Blogroll

On a cold and windy Wellington Saturday morning, I got up (reasonably) early to attend the bi-annual SS4Q conference held at the Marae at Wellington High School. SS4Q stands for Safety in Schools for Queers. The conference is an event where people from all over the country can meet up to discuss initiatives to combat discrimination and harassment for queer students and teachers in our schools – well over 100 people attended.

When I first got there I was struck by the number of school students who were there. I guess I had thought that the conference would be mostly adults discussing these issues so I was pleasantly surprised. While I’m sure not all the students were “out” at school it was still heart-warming to see all the young queers coming through. There weren’t any out trans school students that I was aware of there, but this is happening more and more overseas and there was the mother of a trans person who discussed her somewhat difficult experiences with her FTM boy in the school system.

The first activity we did was to come up with things that we would like to see the end of in schools. Some of the things directly relevant to trans children and teachers included getting rid of school uniforms, and providing unisex toilets.

I attended two workshops during the day, firstly a queer youth activism workshop presented by Hannah Ho which gave me some interesting information about what activism is, what things we can do to make a difference. Having just finished reading Leslie Feinberg’s books I was feeling very motivated for the whole activist approach. The second workshop was presented by the sexual health promoter for the Marlborough District Health Board, Helen McClean. The most interesting thing I took from this workshop was the difficulty she had getting her messages across in the school systems there. Her description of Marlborough Boys seemed to remind me of my own experiences attending Christchurch Boys in the late ‘90s – an extremely homophobic and transphobic environment. I was however heartened somewhat by the attendance of a boy at Marlborough Boys who, although wasn’t queer himself, was willing to attend the conference in an ambassadorial/peer support role. Just doing such a thing would make him the target of harassment and bullying from others in his school – this must have taken a great deal of courage and bravery on his behalf. According to Helen McClean Marlborough Girls was a bit better, but I was quite surprised to hear the existence of a “lesbian bench” at the school – where anyone who sits on is (or perhaps becomes) a lesbian (and so, of course, no one dares sit there).

Later in the day we had a “transgender panel” which include Jack Byrne, Mani Bruce Mitchell, and Dianne, the mother of the FTM boy I mentioned above. Jack talked a little about the HRC transgender enquiry, Mani talked about the issues faced by intersex persons, and I put in my say talking about how a lot of the discrimination faced by queer people in schools was because of their gender expression – more so, probably, than their actual sexual behaviour. I emphasised the importance of the wider queer community working with the trans community to make variations in gendered behaviour accepted, and even valued in our society.

After the conference finished for the day some of us went to a parliamentary forum hosted by Tim Barnett and Charles Chauvel on the possibility of setting up a queer lobby group.

The discussions were very preliminary – just trying to gauge people’s reactions to the idea. It seems there were some people who realised that if Labour doesn’t get re-elected in the next election then Rainbow Labour will have limited effectiveness, and an independent group may have more political influence. If such a group is set up then it is up to us that transgendered and other gender variant people are fairly represented.

I didn’t attend the second day – there wasn’t as much planned that interested me and I had other things to get on with. It was kind of crazy to think that Destiny Church would be holding its service at the same school at the same time.

Overall I had a most enjoyable and fulfilling day, and would definitely recommend other trans people attending future conferences to have a say and give exposure to our community. Although some schools are more progressive than others I think we still have a long way to go to achieve full queer acceptance, equality, and safety in our schools.

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