Written by John Williams
Rainbow YOUTH is an organisation that provides support, information, resources and advocacy for the country’s queer, gender diverse, takatāpui and intersex youth.
We spoke with Frances Arns, Executive Director at Rainbow YOUTH, about her involvement in the organisation, it’s aims, and how the money raised by Ray White’s Fabulous February will be used to help the country’s young Rainbow community.
RWP: How long have you been involved with Rainbow YOUTH, and how did you become involved?
FA: I have been in this role for three-and-a-half years. Before that, I was a volunteer Board member, and I was also involved in fundraising for Rainbow YOUTH. It’s been such an amazing community to be a part of; the fact that it’s a peer-led organisation makes for a really unique space for us, as staff and volunteers, as well as the young people who come to access our services.
RWP: How do you help young people from our Rainbow community?
FA: We’ve got a physical drop-in centre in Auckland, as well as New Plymouth and Tauranga, where young people can drop any time in and hang out, or talk to one of our peer-support workers… or they can volunteer and help us out for the day. We also offer online support services. Peer support groups are another really big part of what we do for young people, which are youth-led, youth-run spaces where young people can come together and spend time with like-minded people and build community and connection – which, for Rainbow young people can be a bit challenging.
RWP: Do the young people who make contact with you find strength in being able to talk with members of their own community; with people who have already made the journey they are embarking on?
FA: Absolutely. One hundred percent. That’s really the core of who we are. It’s about those of us who have lived-experience – of coming to terms with our sexuality or our gender, and how we navigated those times – passing our experiences onto younger people who are coming up. But it’s also about supporting each other. It’s very much a reciprocal space for us all.
Although most of our staff and Board are relatively young – under 30 – there is also the older generation, who came before us, and those intergenerational conversations and connections are so important for us to understand our history and all the things that have happened to get us where we are now.
RWP: What are the key messages that you would like to send out to the greater community about the young Rainbow communities?
FA: Obviously, there’s been a lot of really amazing change that’s happened in the past with homosexual law reform and marriage equality, but there are significant barriers and challenges still ahead. Two examples of things that we are advocating for at the moment are, access to gender-affirming healthcare and banning conversion therapy. Those are just two examples, but there are still many other issues that we need to address, as a society; and while our young people have benefited from the work that’s already been done, they are still facing challenges – and it’s important for us to keep working to help change society so that it can be an inclusive and safe for our young people.
RWP: How can people in the non-Rainbow community help?
FA: There are two things, essentially. Firstly, educate yourself by being proactive about learning about gender and sexuality, and the diversity of experiences. There is a lot of amazing content out there, so learning is very important. And then the second thing I would say is to be an active bystander. So, if you witness homophobic, biphobic or transphobic behaviour at work, at home, or in public, it’s really important that you intervene. And that can be done in a really positive, affirmative and safe way.
RWP: Is there help or advice out there for the parents of Rainbow young people, who may also be struggling?
FA: We have developed a great resource collaboratively with other rainbow organisations called Be There, specifically for parents and whānau of Rainbow young people. And here are again, there are two key things I would like to say: The first is that parents are going to be going through their own journey and process, and that’s absolutely valid and understandable. It’s important, though, [for a parent] to keep that separate and shelter their child, because it can be quite damaging if a parent is projecting whatever they are going though onto their child. They need to find a separate space to talk and process what they are going through, with their friends or partner, or whoever else is in their life that they can talk to.
And then the second thing that we say is just to love your child. Talk to them, and try to understand what’s going on for them. Everyone’s experience is unique. The best thing a parent can do is simply talk to their child and show them their unconditional love.
RWP: Is Rainbow YOUTH active at a Policy level?
FA: Absolutely. We work together within the Youth Sector Rainbow Collective to do our best to advocate for the changes we think are needed at a policy level for our communities. There are about 14 of us [in the Collective], and just before the election last year we drew up a list of all the policy changes we’d like to see Government deliver within the next three years. We circulated that list to all the relevant Ministers and since been working hard to get these issues on their agenda.
RWP: Are they listening?
FA: I think so. It’s still early days, but we feel optimistic about the language some of the politicians used during their campaigning and some of the policies they committed to leading up to the election, so we are feeling hopeful.
RWP: On your website, you say that Rainbow YOUTH practices a ‘strength-based’ model. What does that mean?
FA: On the broadest level, we’re here to celebrate and uplift our young people. We don’t centre conversations around how hard young people have it, or how much our young people are struggling. We are here to talk about how our young people are incredibly brave and resilient; how they tackle the challenges ahead of them with courage, and how it’s on us, as a society, to take the opportunities that exist to move us all forward and to improve things. We are coming from a perspective of hope and positivity and possibility, rather than negativity. It’s a fine balance, though, because things are hard, and it is tough for many of our young people. So it’s not about being blindly optimistic and glossing over the challenges, but more about framing their situation and the way we talk about it.
RWP: Everyone in Auckland knows February is Pride Month, which is obviously an important month in the Rainbow calendar. But isn’t every month important?
FA: Pride is a fantastic time for us to celebrate and create connections for young people, and there’s all this interest and a lot of conversations happening, but that usually drops off fairly quickly, which is a little bit frustrating. So, we are really keen, particularly with the partnerships we’ve seen coming through with this Pride, to see how we can develop them over the rest of the year, because we exist for all 12 months of the year, not just during Pride.
RWP: Where will funds raised by Ray White Ponsonby’s Fabulous February be used?
FA: It will all be going towards our digital online support services, which are really key for Rainbow young people who live outside of the three centres where we have on-the-ground centres… which is most of New Zealand; making sure that those services are and remain really responsive and functional, and that we are there when young people need us. Our online services are also very important for Covid, but they are also there for disabled young people, who might not be able to access physical spaces for whatever reason.
Regional development is very important. Young Rainbow people outside of our city centres have additional barriers to face, so it is important for us to be there and to raise awareness in those smaller communities. And, at the moment, that’s all online, too.
RWP: Thanks for making time to talk with us, Frances. We may see you at one of the many Fabulous February Open Homes we are organising, or at one of the 16 events Rainbow YOUTH are involved with throughout February.
Fabulous February’s gala auction will be held next Thursday – February 25th – at the Sapphire Rooms, above Ponsonby Central. For every home sold on the night, Ray White Ponsonby will donate $1,000 to Rainbow YOUTH.