Content warning: This article discusses homophobia and bullying.

June is pride month and last week, high schools across Aotearoa celebrated Pride Week. 

Students flew pride flags, stuck up posters, dressed up in bright colours and did bake sales to fundraise for rainbow organisations. 

But students Re: News spoke to said some of those flags were stolen and some of those posters were taken down. 

Re: News spoke to three queer teenagers from different high schools about why celebrating pride in schools is important to them and what changes they would like to see in the future.

‘We can be proud of who we are’

Brenda (she/her), who is using a fake name because she experiences bullying, is a queer 14 year old living in a rural town in the Auckland region which she says is “conservative”. 

Brenda felt very confident before entering her teenage years, which is when her peers started spreading “horrific and personal” rumours about her, she says. 

For the past 18 months there’s been a rumour about her having an STD, she says.

Brenda feels supported by her school, family and some of her friends. 

She says the people who criticise her for being queer are the same people who tell her she doesn’t “look queer” because she has long hair, wears a skirt to school and uses ‘she’ and ‘her’ pronouns.

She says many students at her school pushed back against Pride Week being celebrated. 

Brenda spent three hours putting up around 100 Pride Week posters around the school. Before the week had ended, around 90 had been ripped down or had offensive graffiti on them, she says. 

To Brenda, pride means “to accept everyone, no matter their identity… that we all just see each other as people, and that we can be proud of who we are”. 

Brenda says celebrating Pride Week in schools helps educate students “who are a bit more close minded” about what being queer actually is. 

It also gives queer students, especially those who don’t participate in queer groups, a “light at the end of the tunnel” to remind them that people are there for them. 

Witnessing rainbow bullying at school 

Aroha (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Pāhauwera, they/she) is a 17-year-old lesbian who goes to a high school in the Bay of Plenty. 

Aroha used to go to a private school in Hawke’s Bay. Because she wore a uniform there, people couldn’t always tell she was queer, she says. 

Year 13s are allowed to wear their own clothing at her new school, where she says students are more willing to be openly homophobic.

“Because I went to a private school, I've definitely learned how to keep my head up, shoulders back, and just keep going on,” they say. 

“Whereas students here have learned to keep their heads down and try not to be seen, which makes them more bigger targets for the bullies.”

Some students at her new school want to learn more about the queer community but are too scared to ask questions because they don’t want to be seen as homophobic, she says. 

Aroha says other students at her new school are less willing to learn.

“We've had instances already during Pride Week where the Pride flag that we put up on the flag pole has been stolen, twice now,” they say.

For Pride Week, Aroha says her high school held a “wear your colours” dress up day, hung up posters and flags, and offered a slideshow that was optional to show during form time. 

Aroha wants to see schools staying on top of rainbow-based bullying and providing their queer students with a consistent safe space at school. 

She says the Queer Straight Alliance group at her school only have a designated space to meet up on one afternoon a week and she wants them to have a place where they can always be themselves. 

Being trans-masculine at an all-girls school 

Molly (he/they) is a trans-masculine 15 year old who attends an all-girls high school in Auckland. 

“I subconsciously knew for a long time that parts of me weren't really matching that cis, straight narrative,” he says. 

Molly says he felt gender dysphoria because he attends a girls’ school which, in some ways, pushed him to realise his identity.

Molly says there's quite a few gender diverse people at his school and the school has been working on inclusive uniform options, such as pants and loose-fitting shirts that aren’t cut to accentuate a feminine body shape. 

These options are good for all students, not just queer students, they say. 

He also appreciates that all his teachers use their pronouns in their email signatures. 

Molly says his school is “one of the better places to be queer” but he is “still being called names as I walk about the school” and “there's still people writing slurs on the bathroom”. 

In the future, he’d like to see shorts being offered as a uniform option for more types of school sport, slurs being promptly cleaned off of walls and teachers putting in more effort to remember and use correct pronouns.

Holding Pride Week at school is important to him because “everyone deserves to feel celebrated and loved in schools because if you don't, then you're not gonna want to be at school”.

Pride means celebrating who you are, they say. 

“Queer people oftentimes have to fight to be able to celebrate… The first pride was a protest, it was a riot and I think it's important that we keep that alive,” he says. 

Molly knows there is some opposition to celebrating pride in schools. 

To those people, they say: “Your pushing back is only going to make us stronger. We've been through so much as a community and we're not gonna give up now, we want to be accepted.”

Where to get help:

  • 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
  • Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training. 
  • Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
  • OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community.

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