“I am a Queer Avenger”

Queer Our Schools speech by Kassie Hartendorp, Workers Party Wellington branch organiser and Queer Avenger. Further speeches on GayNZ.

We’re here because we’re angry. Our anger should not come as a surprise, in fact its long over-due; the ministry has consecutively failed, year after year, in its legal care-of-duty to provide safe and affirming environments for their students.

 The situation for queer youth has been well known to the Ministry for years. Since 2007 they have known that 33% of queer youth face bullying on the basis of their identity and that 20% of queer youth will make at least one attempt on their own life. A decimation is literally one in 10. This is one in 5.

Further, the Ministry has known since 2008 that trans, queer and gender variant students face immense difficulty in simply gaining access to schools and to education. With no control over how they are presented, with no guarantee that their identities will be respected by staff, with the scapegoating of bulling onto the victims, with strictly gendered dress codes, with sex segregated bathrooms and with generally no available support to help students who don’t fit within the gender binary, trans and gender variant youth face an uphill battle even to remain in schools.

The right to education is a basic human right. The fact that there are no national requirements that schools respect and make every possible effort to accommodate and affirm gender-variant youth is appalling.

One can only imagine that the Ministry of Education’s complacency in the face of institutionalised oppression within our schools and its willingness to trade off queer youth’s educational opportunities and lives either comes out of a bureaucratic ineptitude or for reasons of political expediency. We’re here to say that no matter what the reasons, we’re not going stand by any more and accept the status quo.

So what is to be done? The first goal of this demonstration has already been achieved. The Ministry of Education has already made contact with The Queer Avengers looking to discuss the demands we are raising today. We don’t know what will come of this meeting, but what we do know is they wouldn’t pay us one ounce of attention if we weren’t here right now, calling them out on their abysmal record of simply accepting institutionalised queer oppression.

Which leads us to our second goal of this demonstration. If we are going to be able to fight the long fight and achieve our demands for safe, accessible and inclusive schools we need everyone who is at this demonstration to get involved, not only in attending demonstrations but in becoming organisers of the community.

If we are going to challenge the queer oppression we face on a daily basis we need to stand together as a community and demand it. We as a community need to get angry that queer youth are five times more likely to take their lives than heterosexual, cis-gendered youth. We as a community need to get angry that the solutions to the queer oppression that The Queer Avengers came-up with within 6 weeks’ time the Ministry of Education has not managed to stumble upon in the 5 YEARS since it has been undeniably clear to them that a problem exists.

We have already shown what can be achieved when we come together to demand change. The anger and empowerment coming out of the Queer the Night demonstration has led to the development of The Queer Avengers. The so far merger actions taken by The Queer Avengers has already led to the Ministry of Education falling head-over-heels to meet with us and discuss our demands. They know they need to act now or face our scrutiny. Change is possible, not only in this campaign but in all campaigns which we set ourselves to. Change happened 25 years ago when we as a whole community stood-up and demanded our rights to exist during the Homosexual Law Reform campaign. Well I’ll tell you what, we may be legal now, but we’re certainly not accepted and valued as equals.

Our next meeting is this coming Thursday at 7:00pm at Anvil House on Wakefield St. We will be discussing the next step in our Queer the Schools campaign. We look forward to seeing everyone there.

I am Kassie and I am a Queer Avenger

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