Saturday, 1 November 2008

Q+A: Kicking Ass To Get The Job Done!

Q+A: Queers and Allies, Questioning and Answering is a group that was set up and run by students at Northcote High. At the conclusions of Rainbow Day 08 (an event i will talk about at a latter date) we were asked to speak at a forum of teachers and other high school workers (school nurses, welfare staff, principles etc) about our group. Bellow is an extract from the speech I gave.

On this day which we had worked so hard for not only to make it good, but to be allowed to do it in the first place we had a speaker from PFLAG. Kerri was informative and entertaining, we were gratefully to have her there. However before she left she told us that she believed that "Northcote High should be the blue print for all schools" she then went on to tell us that it's "all about the head" She felt that the existence of Q+A, our ability to run Rainbow Day and celebrate sexual and gender diversity was because of our principal (little did she know our teacher banned the use of the word "sexual" as in "sexual diversity" on any display we had up at the school and did not understand what "gender diversity" is! Anyone involved with the group knows that that's not true!

We had to campaign hard to have this day and she refused to let us have casual clothes on that day. Our original idea had been to have a free dress day allocating a colour to each year level, each year level would have represented a colour of the rainbow and we were going to ask students to submit a gold coin donation for this. This is standard practice in events at the school. We had hoped to raise money for a queer youth related group. She wouldn't allow this. She also wouldn't allow us to have the free dress day arguing that year 12 students would get to excited if they were allowed to wear free dress and this would cause them to do poorly in their exams.

She also did not want us to put on 'Rainbow Day', but we gave her little choice. Presenting a letter to the school committee which involves parents and Friends of the schools, and anything tabled at the meeting goes on public record. Presenting at a staff meeting, I announced that we had proposed that such a day be held. As a result I gathered much staff support. This put the principal in a bad position to deny us the day. (Ofcourse Kerri, from PFLAG had no way of knowing this and we don't blame her for the misconception)

Freedoms Are Won Not Given! I know, i know you're sick of me saying that, but it's true SO true! Queer and Allied students have not been given anything but challenges by the school administration. We have fought for every minuscule gain we have achieved in our aim to make NHS a safer place for queer and questioning students.
The point of this speech was 1) to offer advice as to how to develop a Queer group at a high school and 2) to attempt to show teachers how much power their STUDENTS have. Students CAN make a difference and at Northcote High we are!
so any way, here's part of the speech....
We have met and dealt with numerous challenges as a group.

  1. The first was that we had our posters taken down by school administration. So the simplest piece of advice I have for you is make sure you get the right approval to have posters up!
  2. Sadly we had a number of posters being torn down by students. Largely dealing with this was resilience, we just had to keep putting up the posters-which did play on our environmental consciences a bit. We also quickly learnt where they were taken down from, and where they were mostly likely to stay up. We found putting them in classroom windows and staff offices facing out meant that they were not torn down.

  3. Our group was largely populated by year 12’s who wont be here next year. Overcoming this so far has been largely through word of mouth, having the younger students who do come encourage mates to get along. We soon found that close to 50% of the students coming to our meetings were non-year 12 students. Today has also had a recruitment focus. Telling students about the group, advertising our meetings and we’ve planned a special meeting tomorrow with a guest speaker. We spoke at the year 9 assembly, and went around to the year 10 and 11 homeroom classes to advertise the day and the group-In the hope that these students will be able to take on leadership positions in the group next year.

  4. Before we could put on rainbow day or get serious about a campaign to reduce levels of queerphobia we had to have the administration of the school accept that there was a problem in the school. When putting up posters to advertise our group we encountered hostility over the word “make” as in “make NHS a queer safe space” There were some people who disliked the suggestion that NHS was NOT already a queer safe space. Certainly we felt that this was something the school administration could not judge as they’re not students. They don’t experience and witness queerphobia in the same way we do. Suggestion that any queerphobia in the school was the result of “one or two bullies” was highly insulting to the group and put a bit of a block on what we wanted to do. After discussions and several proposed plans we decided as a group we really couldn’t do any work until the school was forced to recognize the queerphobia with in it. We submitted a letter to our school principal and school council detailing our concerns, with some suggestions for improvement including rainbow day as well as collecting anecdotes from students and teachers detailing experiences of queerphobia in the school. This resulted in us being invited to talk to staff meetings and committees- which has raised awareness of queerphobia among staff and has put sexuality and gender diversity back on the agenda.

    I hope what I’ve said has been usefull but I must stress what I think is possibly the most crucial point: For their to be real change there must be student led and organized groups! Students will listen more to other students than teachers and a group like Q+A provides an ability for self empowerment of queer and allied students. This sense of being able to make change and stand up for what you believe in creates confidence and students create their OWN safe place.

So far this year Q+A has created a year 7 lesson plan which has been used to a great degree of success, put on an excellent day which sent a clear message to the school that NHS was a place of gender and sexuality diversity and that such diversity deserved to be celebrated, we have raised conscious levels of students and teachers, we have had a commitment from the school curriculum committee to make queer-friendly changes to the education and the manner in which staff are trained and simply by existing and meeting regularly we have given queer and question students a place to feel safe and supported, supported not only in that we will never mock them in regards tot heir sexuality and gender identity, we are also providing a support in which we work together to overcome the discrimination that Queer and questioning students are forced to put up with. We WILL be back next year! In fact our own curriculum committee (a Q+A sub group)intends to meet at the conclusion of exams to make reforms to the year 7 health curriculum which will then be put in place for following years.


Anonymous said...

Great work! It is sometimes harder to prevail against nice people that out-and-out fascists. And you seem to have left good student leaders behind you, C. and N. having made out a strong case for the cause in the last Curriculum Committee meeting.
And I'm convinced your diagnosis of a backlash against Queers and Questioners has been spot on. One Yr 9 boy I know of expressed concern about the formation of Q & A, saying that the group would be bad for the school because it would 'promote' homosexual behaviour.
Cheers, L. Fraser (You can find my blog by clicking on the 'Nare' link on Aviva's blog. I have two posts on the US election on there...

Anonymous said...

Although the concept of pride is not something I subscribe to, I did feel fairly proud being a part of Q+A.

And I agree, pride is a necessary enzyme (if you'll allow me to use biological analogies) to catalyse the rate of change in society. The racist and stupid commonly alter the facts to fit the views...a problem if you're one of those facts that needs removal (I won't mention any *teachers*).

But good job, Kath. Those biscuits, I must add, were superlative.

Chowder said...

Well done Kath on this achievement.

At times simply brute force to get a point across is more effective than wading through the bullcrap the administration throws your way.

Kath said...

Thanks Dr Fraser. I'm glad you thought the curriculum talk went well. There are some very enthusiastic students in the group.
In one sense we are promoting "homosexual behaviour" I would like students to be able to be open and proud about their sexuality (but I wouldn’t necessarily go around saying that)

Thanks as always. Yes pride is important, when all the messages around you tell you that who you are, is wrong (identity and belonging anyone?) LOL walking down the street the other night a guy from school screamed out "LESSO" my response "and PROUD!"

Thank you congrats should go to all the staff and students involved.

Jayne said...

You've worked hard and your efforts paid off.
Well done ;)
You'd do well in the Cert 3 in Broadcasting at JOY

Anonymous said...

YAY!!!!!!!! Q+A!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That is all.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, but're tempting me to talk about Tibet with your word usage there.

Kath said...

Thanks Jayne, i checked out that link and I think I might apply.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of fighting, I would give this one (written by a inextricably nonsensical conservative) a go, but I'm tied down with polynomials:

Kath said...

Reuben some people are not right. However it seems to me to be of little advantage to wave my rainbow flag on ancient posts on a conservative blog. Some people are not goign to learn.

Anonymous said...

I still think it'd be fun to give them a swift kick to the bollocks.

Kath said...

Well i wont argue with you there Reubes

Anonymous said...

Who is 'you know who' Kath?

I shall do a blog post unless you email me with a name :)

Anonymous said...

i forgot to tell you when i saw you yesterday, i guess my ability to interact with my brain had been impaired by the two hour maths torture i had just undergone...

I wanted to ask you whether you heard of the "Åke Green"-case that took place a couple of years ago? As a dissenter reverend, he held a sermon characterised by hate against non-heterosexuals. People were outraged, of course, and a storm of discussions concerning freedom of speech/religion versus freedom from intolerance followed. He ended up with a prison sentence for hate speech later that year for it, thanks to the swedish Act on Persecution of Minority Groups.
It was a quite interesting, however awful, discussion to follow as it unfolded. I thought you might be interested, if you want to know more, let me know.

Also: sexuality-neutral marriage will be introduced in 2009/10 over there. I was so happy to hear about it!

Anonymous said...

"As a dissenter reverend, he held a sermon characterised by hate against non-heterosexuals."

Don't worry, Vik; he's just carrying out God's will as it says in whichever testament (they're all homophobic etc by the way) he espouses.

*Awaits mudslinging and calls for my destruction from pious readers*

Kath said...

No I didnt know about that Vik, it sounds awfull. However I'm glad to hear he was held acountable and punished for his actions, I'm not sure that imprisonment will change HIS views but it does send a strong message to the rest of the community that homophobia will not be tolerated in Sweeden. I had heard about the marriage laws and to be honest I thought they were a bit slow on the uptake, that said it's still good news.
There is a demonstration comming up for same sex marriage in melbourne on the 22nd of November.