Group helps teens accept who they are
Negotiating who you are is hard enough for the average teenager, but when you feel as though you are different from the norm it can be really tough.
One in 12 high school students in New Zealand identifies themselves as something other than heterosexual, which means there are many in our community who need understanding and support.
Kirsty Henderson and Cath Slee started shOut, Timaru's first gay and lesbian youth group, a month ago.
With six members at present, it's a close-knit group, but there is plenty of scope for growth.
Members say there is definitely a need for a support group in Timaru.
"It's great to have a place where people can go and feel comfortable. It's good to not have the pressures of being at high school, or the other pressures that come along with being a teenager," group member Cazz Sarchett said.
Lucan Michelle was given a hard time at school, and wanted to leave as soon as he could. He only stayed until he was 16.
"I had stuff thrown at me and constant taunting. Life got a lot better for me after I left school. I would've liked to have stayed, though," Lucan said.
Sadly it's not unusual for homosexual youth to feel threatened at school. According to the Youth ‘07 national survey, 60 per cent of them have been physically hit at school. They are twice as likely not to attend school. They are four times more likely to have attempted suicide.
"The schools say they're very accepting, but it's not what the statistics say, and not the experience that a lot of our group has had," group facilitator Kirsty Henderson said.
"If I could have had it the other way [been heterosexual], I would, but there's not a choice in it," Cazz said.
Cazz came out when he was 15, and Lucan when he was 12.
Both agree that a group such as ShOut would have been invaluable back then, and are delighted that something has been done about forming it now.
"There's been a gap in Timaru for a while," said Kirsty.
"We've been working with Rainbow Youth and Qtopia from Christchurch and we'll join up with them in a couple of weeks."
The group is welcoming to anyone who is discovering their sexuality or support people.
"I'm really excited and pleased these people are involved. They're a real asset to other people who might be struggling. They've been there, come out, are proud of who they are, and are willing to give their time and support to others," Kirsty said.
- © Fairfax NZ News