A guest post by Eileen Joy, PhD candidate, University of Auckland
This weekend just past, I took both my children, and one of their friends, to the Auckland Pride parade. They had an absolute blast. They loved the colours, the energy, the vibe. They adored collecting stickers and ‘high-fives’ and cheering loudly as Jacinda Ardern passed. We even had the privilege of a number of hugs from people we knew in the parade who ran over to share their excitement with us. And, thanks have to go to the lovely group of men beside us, whom I assume were not altogether straight, who laughed alongside us, made room for the three children, and gave their rainbow flags to us. I have to say it was, hands down, the best Pride parade I’ve been to yet.
We still get asked why we need the Pride parade. We still get told there are bigger issues. We still get told, you have marriage equality, why do you need more? We even get these questions from fellow social workers.
First, before I spend time telling you why, I want to make it clear why I’m writing this piece. To most people, they think I’m straight, they think that because I’m married to a cis-man, that I, a cis-woman, must be straight. There’s an assumption that being married somehow means you’re straight. That’s a problem, because I know that I did not tick the ‘erase your sexuality’ box when I signed my marriage certificate. Yes, I’m married, to a man, and I am bisexual, not straight. My seeming straightness hides the fact that statistically, I’m more likely to suffer from mental illness. That has major ramifications for how medical professionals, care professionals, and yes, even social workers might interact with me. Because of that, and because one of my aforementioned children is also not straight (and doesn’t perform their assigned gender according to societal standards), that makes me very determined to get things right, to fight for our visibility, our rights, and even our lives.
And note, I’m Pākehā, cis-gendered, and seeming straight. I get a whole lot of privilege from that. My trans-sisters and brothers, my non-binary and intersex friends, they are not so lucky. They risk their lives, almost every day, trying to simply be themselves.
Want to go to the toilet? You have to negotiate this, will I pass, why should I even have to pass, will it be safe in the toilet, will I have my gender identity questioned? And this starts early. Thanks to some over-zealous young people doing this sort of policing, one of my children is now extra cautious about going to public toilets. They are 12. This happened when they were 11. At 11 you should not have to worry about someone blocking your access to the toilet. Being able to go to the toilet is a basic thing, yet so very complicated when you are gender non-conforming, trans, non-binary, intersex.
So we celebrate Pride. We celebrate Pride to break down the walls. We celebrate Pride so that my child can, maybe, go to the toilet without that fear. We celebrate Pride to ensure that we get the same level of decency, basic respect that straight people get, that cis people like me get. We also celebrate Pride to honour the many many heroes that have gone before us, that have laid down their lives so that I might have the freedom to say, I’m bisexual today.
And the bigger issues, the homelessness, low wages, they all impact on rainbow people just that little bit harder. You try attempting to rent a house when you’re non-binary, queer, trans? Imagine how that looks for Māori rainbow members, takatāpui. These are ALL things social workers should be aware of, need to be aware of. A client should not have to disclose their sexuality or gender identity to you, for you to be a safe person. Your practice needs to be overtly inclusive, or, to be blunt, we don’t feel safe with you.
We fight to gain legal recognition of gender identity
We fight to improve the mental health stats for our rainbow youth and adults
We fight to ensure good pathways at all DHBs for our trans adults and youth
We fight to ensure that rainbow people have their gender identity recognised within our courts and prisons
And I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg here.
And we celebrate.
We celebrate because whilst we have so much work to do, we have also come so far.
So, if you’re a member of the Rainbow community, and involved in social work, come join us and network on Facebook with more of us at Rainbow SWANZ
And if you’re not a member of our community, then DO allyship, don’t just say you’re an ally, being an ally means performing allyship, consider it a verb, not a noun. We would love to see you making space for us, amplifying our voices, supporting us.
Note, if I’ve used terms you are not familiar with, then please see these handy links here, consider it professional development!
Rainbow Youth https://www.ry.org.nz
Outline NZ http://www.outline.org.nz
Inside Out (some of the best resources to be had in New Zealand) http://insideout.org.nz
Agender NZ http://www.agender.org.nz
Gender Minorities Aotearoa NZ https://genderminorities.com
Gender Bridge https://www.facebook.com/groups/genderbridge/
Holding Our Own (support for families of LGBTQIA children) https://holdingourownhoo.wordpress.com
Intersex Awareness New Zealand http://www.ianz.org.nz
Image credit: Eileen Joy