One of my first tastes of homophobia was when I was a largely closeted fifteen-year-old sitting in class attempting to do my work. I heard a scoff behind me, preceded by utterances about how I must be a ‘faggot’, based off the way I was sitting or something equally as trivial. The same voice continued to talk openly about the fact that he and his father would happily kill a ‘faggot’ with his bare hands if he knew he wasn’t going to be caught.
Now at this point in in my life I was well aware of my sexuality and had come out to select friends and family. However, because of the fact that my school was a single sex boys school in the outskirts of rural Wairarapa I decided not to tell any of my peers until I had a secure position at Wellington High School and left the god-forsaken school gates for good. Thus, upon hearing that one of these peers would happily kill someone like me I was confronted with a wave of emotions in which I was forced to swallow – because showing any sign of weakness as a response would ultimately cause for further speculation about me being a ‘faggot’.
Not-so-fun fact – According to the Urban Dictionary the word faggot has two definitions: 1) ‘a bundle of sticks that have been tied together’, and 2) ‘a reference to homosexual males, often as a slur’.
In the ever so progressive and enlightened era of the Dark Ages, where witches were burnt at the stake, those found guilty of homosexuality were viewed unworthy even of this treatment. Consequently, they would be tossed into the base of the fire, amongst the ‘faggots’, and used to start the inferno. It is an incredibly powerful word and if you’ve ever been in a position where it’s being yelled at you for not being straight you can understand the sickening combination of emotions that it elicits, as it is essentially inferring that your mere existence is an abomination.
But New Zealanders tend to pride themselves on being quite a progressive nation – with good reason, right? Compared to other countries we most definitely are. We have well established laws to ensure widespread equality and non-discrimination. Regardless there seems to be a widely shared naivety and/or ignorance throughout the country as many people are of the belief that we’ve come as far as we can in relation to civil rights.
They are of the belief that now that same sex marriage has been legalized there is nothing else that can be done. Thus they are of the belief that we, the members of the queer community, are seemingly free of prejudice. It’s as though by virtue of having a token gay friend we’ve been cleansed of any existing discrimination.
Unfortunately for those who like to believe this, despite the fact that we aren’t being executed or imprisoned for the way in which we identify, we are still definitely discriminated against.
It is impossible to say which demographic eccentricities have a role in perpetrating this behavior, and having only been on the receiving end of it, I don’t want to speculate about what causes it.
However, it is important to note that no one is born homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and so on, these are attitudes that are learned and taught – often by one’s parents or other older and influential figures that cling to the days of casual discrimination. Consequently, queer acceptance is something that needs to be addressed within schools as it is arguably the place where students receive their second greatest influence in their attitudes – at both primary and secondary school levels. Furthermore, schools in New Zealand, particularly single sex schools in New Zealand, are where these attitudes can be at their worst – with certain students yearning to find anyone belonging to a minority so that they can torment them relentlessly.
The importance of queer students having such safety and security is unmeasurable as it allows us to flourish in ways that we might not have otherwise. Instead of being weakened by the prospect of another day at school, surrounded by both students and teachers who believe our existence is similar to that of the bubonic plague, queer students in environments like Wellington High have more opportunity. Because of the fact that there is less distraction in relation to being outed and/or judged, students are able to grow more in themselves, build greater friendships, and arguably even do better at school.
The discrimination of the queer community obviously extends beyond High School environments – to the point where we are verbally, sexually and physically assaulted on a day to day basis worldwide.
As a result of this there are alarmingly higher levels of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide rates among those that are exposed to said abuse.
Furthermore, nearly 20% of transgender people have attempted suicide and nearly 50% have been sexually and/or physically assaulted. However, mistreatment towards queer identifiers stems further than being harassed by particular individuals, but also often by the country in which they live in as a whole.
Identifying as a member of the queer community is still illegal in nearly eighty countries today – forty-five of which deem this as worthy of being sentenced up to a life time in prison and in at least five of which it is also punishable by death.
So please, if you agree with me don’t be afraid to stand up for what is obviously right. Don’t be afraid to call people out on their queerphobic remarks, whether it’s your best friend, your token bigoted family member, or even a stranger. Don’t be afraid to question the heteronormative behaviors forced upon you by birth, and start to think more openly about how you might identify.
At times it can be incredibly strenuous to be even remotely different from such heteronormativity so the smallest acts of kindness or tolerance towards the newly open queer kid in your class, could change their day for the better.
Hopefully, if we all strive towards a shared goal of acceptance, the world will change for the better as well.
Author: Harry Reid
Hi – my name is Harry Reid. I’m eighteen years old, and I’m originally from Greytown in the Wairarapa – which is approximately an hour out of Wellington. I’m the youngest of three children, with a twenty-year old brother and a twenty-two-year old sister. After finishing Wellington High last year I’m now in my first year at the University of Otago, doing a double degree in Law and Arts, with my Arts Major either being Communications or Politics – and whichever one I decide against will become my Minor. Some of my interests outside of University include photography, socializing with friends and keeping up with current affairs– among other things. Over the coming weeks I’m going to share with you some of my experiences (both good and bad) in my weekly blog. Feel free to follow my Instagram @harrrryreid for a more personalized view of what I’m up to!