An openly gay All Black would be a huge step towards making it easier for young people to come out, a new study on "queer" youth has found.
The study, by 22-year-old Waikato University student Murray Riches, says gay, bisexual and transgender high school students need more role models – from gay couples in textbooks to high-profile sports stars.
The study – "How Do We Make It Better? Mapping the steps towards a more supportive coming out environment for queer youth in Aotearoa New Zealand" – also suggests making sexual diversity education a core part of a teaching degree, creating support groups in schools, and havingmandatory sexuality and gender diversity education.
Riches said gay and bisexual youth experienced higher rates of depression, suicidal tendencies, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted infections, isolation, bullying.
Gay Green MP Kevin Hague, one of 22 people interviewed for the study, said some schools did a great job of providing support, but others were terrible.
"It's an absolute lottery for young people, what kind of environment they'll be exposed to."
Hague said civil unions and anti-discrimination reform had made life better for gay adults but young people had "precious few" role models, and grew up in an environment that assumed they were heterosexual.
He said he did an exercise with youth groups asking them to name role models and they came up with pop culture figures such as Ellen DeGeneres, which indicated a misleading idea of where gay people fitted in society.
"They don't get the sense that actually, you could be an All Black and be gay. There's no very masculine role model available. It needs someone to take the plunge and demonstrate that actually, it's not too bad."
A Sunday Star-Times poll of 730 people last week found 70% believe homosexuality should be presented in a non-judgemental way as part of sex education.
One respondent said: "Schools should focus on teaching scientifically accepted facts about homosexuality, and the scientific consensus is that it is simply the way some people are, and there is nothing inherently unhealthy about homosexual relationships."
A minority weren't so supportive, saying homosexuality was unnatural and talking about it was tantamount to granting "permission".
For the past decade, sex education has been complusory from Year 1 to 10. Every two years schools have to consult their communities about the programme content.
Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond said resistance to sex education and diversity programmes was often fuelled by misconceptions, although she was not aware any school had ever asked the organisation to leave homosexuality out of its presentation.
Seb Stewart, director of Nelson-based Q-Youth, has helped schools establish human rights-based Queer and Straight Alliance groups to "confront discrimination head on".
He says such groups can tackle the "alarming" suicide and bullying rates associated with gay youth, and that other students benefit by learning to accept anyone who is different. "At present, in our schools, we have a climate of punishing those who are different."
- Sunday Star Times
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