Boys' college backs gay, straight students

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 13:00 06/04/2011

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Nelson College is believed to have made history by becoming the first all-boys' school in New Zealand to have a support group for gay and straight students.

The announcement came at an assembly yesterday, where Olympic speed skater and gay role model Blake Skjellerup was speaking as part of his campaign against homophobic bullying.

During the assembly, several senior students, including the head boy and deputy head boy, stood up and announced the creation of a new college-based group for straight and gay students, similar to those in other schools in the region.

Mr Skjellerup applauded the move and said the visit had been positive.

Headmaster Gary O'Shea said the creation of the group was a natural progression for the school.

"There are openly gay boys here. You are in a complex environment where you hope everyone's safe."

Mr O'Shea said it was a student-driven initiative, and he was proud of the boys for putting forward the idea.

"It's kids who asked for it. I don't know how parents will feel about it, but it's about support. If they can't accept it, then they can't accept it."

Q-Youth executive director Seb Stewart said he believed the move was a first for an all-boys' school in New Zealand.

"It's an enormous step. It's the best news that I have heard for a very long time," he said.

Mr Stewart said it was an honour to have a role model like Mr Skjellerup in Nelson promoting safe schools. "I think it's one thing to be successful in any field and there's no doubt that Blake is an incredible athlete, but it's another thing altogether to use that success and celebrity to help others."

Mr Skjellerup said it was great to be in Nelson and spreading his message.

When speaking to schools, Mr Skjellerup drew on his own life experience of being bullied as a teenager. "When I was in high school, I was bullied for being gay and it was mentally challenging for me to deal with that.

"It was not until I was 22 that I realised that I could be gay and live my life happily," Mr Skjellerup said.

"Sport was something that helped me and kept me going. At times, I was extremely lonely."

While in Nelson, Mr Skjellerup is also co-ordinating a national letter-writing campaign, encouraging young people to write to Prime Minister John Key with their own stories of bullying and how it has affected their well-being.

For details of the campaign, see pinkshirtday.org.nz.

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- The Nelson Mail

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