Youth advocates are calling on the government to better support at-risk LGBTQI teens to help save lives.
Christchurch youth education and advocacy group, Q-topia have just seven weeks of funding left.
Q-topia educator co-ordinator Anne Nicholson said staff members were prepared to work voluntarily from that point, to ensure their support groups remained operational.
READ MORE:* Canterbury schools say yes to gender diversity * Stuff Nation: What’s it like to be transgender in NZ?
The organisation supports gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, takataapui, fa’afafine and all queer youth in Canterbury aged 14 to 25.
“I can’t walk away from our work. I would have to stop the education work though, and that stops the core social change.”
Alongside the weekly support groups for young people and their families, Nicholson ran education sessions in schools to promote inclusivity, through the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development and Auckland University-developed Inside Out programme.
Nicholson said there had been a 25 per cent increase in demand for Q-topia’s support services, and the Government were yet to recognise the value of their work.
“Things are not going to get better for our young people if we don’t start doing some big work in this area. It’s gone on too long,” Nicholson said.
A government funded 2012 survey identified that same sex and both sex attracted students were 2.8 times more likely to report weekly bullying.
Half of all transgender students reportedly felt unsafe at school.
University of Auckland School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work lecturer Dr John Fenaughty evaluated the effectiveness of Q-topia’s Christchurch Inside Out programme in 2016.
Fenaughty’s evaluation recommended Inside Out be delivered to all Year 9 students as a matter of course, and then repeated in Year 10.
“The default experience is not a positive one for many of these students, so that’s what makes this sort of work so critical,” he said.
Green Party spokesperson for social development Jan Logie said it was important New Zealand schools were able to provide safe environments for all their students, which Q-topia had helped some to achieve in short periods of time.
“It has the potential to save lives, at its most dramatic, and reduce levels of bullying and improve opportunities for all students.”
Logie had written to Social Development Minister Anne Tolley and urged her to support the organisation by granting them contingency funding in the interim.
“The government need to recognise the value of the work.”
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was not available to comment.
Q-topia facilitator Caitlin Briggs, 20, joined the organisation in 2015, and had since supported numerous LGBTQI youth.
“Q-topia is their one safe space to be going to at the moment and it really scares me to think about what will happen to these kids if Q-topia does run out of funding.”
“What does our future look like when they no longer have that support that they’re relying on – and it sounds a bit dramatic – to stay alive.”
Korowai Youth Well-Being Trust chairperson Dr Sue Bagshaw said Q-topia was the only service like it, and a collective effort was needed from government to support the service.
“We know that people who are different, no matter what their difference is, have problems in terms of bullying and we know that bullying is the biggest source of preventable mental illness.”