The Nayland Alliance of Gays and Straights was established in 2002, making Nayland the first South Island school to establish a group for LGBT+ students. In 2020, the group – now named Pride – is still working hard to give students a place to feel supported and accepted.
Despite the group being established almost two decades ago, issues for LGBT+ youth are as present as ever. Homophobia and transphobia are far more excessive in the wider community than most of us would like to believe. The bullying and harassment that stems from this can have an awful impact on the mental health and well-being of LGBT+ students, and causes worry to the people who care about them.
“People who aren’t LGBT+ don’t usually see it, because they aren’t us,” Pride co-leader Mars said. “But for some people it’s everywhere, it’s all the time.”
Research shows that LGBT+ people are at particularly high risk of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, substance misuse and eating disorders. “There’s many students that need support,” school counsellor Suzi Keepa said. Because of this, LGBT+ focused groups such as Nayland Pride play an immeasurably valuable role in caring for our youth.
“If you’re having a rough time, it’s good to know there are places that can support you,” Mars said.
Pride co-leader Laura initially joined the group in order to support her younger sister, who identifies as LGBT+. “When she comes home and she says stuff [about the bullying] that’s happened to her throughout the day, it’s so upsetting because you can’t do anything,” she said. “So I joined for her in a way.”
In a world where ignorance and judgement can still be widely observed, Nayland Pride aims to make Nayland College a better environment for all students, whether they fit a societal norm or not. Already in the works are same-sex inclusive health education, educational talks for teachers and an ever-growing group of students that are putting their voice forward to discuss positive changes Nayland can make. The group leaders find it encouraging to see that the school is properly open to progress.
“[Mr Wilson] has been really supportive, he has experience in his past with people he loves and cares about being treated awfully just for who they are,” Mars said.
“It’s really good that he wants to support us. It can be very hard for allies to know what they can do, but he matches our enthusiasm,” Laura added.
The group is slowly growing in numbers, and welcomes everyone – whether they’re LGBT+, allies, or respectful people looking to educate themselves. “Things were very small last year, but this year we instantly had a boom, it was awesome,” Mars said. Pride leaders highlight the fact that the quickest path to understanding from people who don’t personally identify is simply communication. “If people don’t know things, that’s fine! Just tell us so we can tell you!”
The more people who turn up, the more opinions and perspectives are added to the discussion, and ultimately better progress can be made. It also plays a huge part in allowing everyone to feel at ease. “It lets people know that ya know, it’s okay. It says that you’re allowed to be you, and there are other people that are like you, and you’re not alone,” Mars said.
Nayland Pride meets every Tuesday lunch in Room 14.
By Student Journalist Maya Jayasena