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Safe space for Rainbow youth


Erin Kavanagh-Hall
[email protected]

A new volunteer organisation aims to create a space where Wairarapa’s Rainbow rangatahi can feel included, accepted and, above all, safe.

In 2019, counsellor and youth worker Alec Aiken founded Wairarapa Rainbow Support: to help LGBTQ+ youth in the region connect with one another, form a strong community, and be empowered to educate others about queer identities.

At the time, Alec was working at Changeability Counselling and Family Violence Services – and said many of his young queer clients, particularly those identifying as transgender or gender-non-conforming, were struggling to find in-person support from like-minded people.

As well as providing a social space for queer rangatahi, Wairarapa Rainbow Support also has a strong educational focus: planning to run workshops for young people on LGBTQ+ issues – everything from legal rights to safe sex – and seminars for professionals working with the queer community.

Raven Broche, new group co-ordinator for Wairarapa Rainbow Support. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Wairarapa Rainbow Support was originally formed as a Changeability service – but, under the leadership of new co-ordinator Raven Broche, is now working on establishing its own identity as a charitable trust.

Raven, who came on board as co-ordinator last month, said it was important LGBTQ+ rangatahi had a place where they could explore their identity as queer people in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

“I didn’t have a space like that when I was younger. Growing up in rural France, I had maybe one other gay friend – so it was pretty isolating,” Raven, who identifies as non-binary, said.

“It would have been amazing to have had a safe space where I could express my feelings and put a name to what I was going through.

“In our group, young people can feel comfortable to explore who they are, among people who understand their struggles. They can feel safe to ask questions, share what they need to share, and just be heard.”

“Young queer people deserve to have their own spaces where they can hang out and spend time with people with similar interests and values – no different to, for example, Scouts or a church youth group,” Alec said.

“Discrimination still happens – and having a group where Rainbow youth can support one another can build resilience against it.

“And if we can provide opportunities for education, even better.”

While setting up Wairarapa Rainbow Support, Alec sent a survey around schools, counselling services and youth organisations, allowing LGBTQ+ youth and whanau to share their experiences anonymously.

The survey – which had 362 respondents, including 71 queer people aged from 15 to 18 – revealed some of the most common concerns among Rainbow rangatahi in Wairarapa were discrimination, a fear of being outed as LGBTQ+, and isolation.

This isolation is compounded, Alec said, by scant options for public transport in the region.


“Public transport in Wairarapa is, in a word, pretty bad.

“If you’re not able to drive, or you can’t afford the petrol, and there’s hardly any buses or trains you can catch, it’s much harder to connect with people like you.

“So, some of the only options you have are online communities.”

Wairarapa Rainbow Support started holding in-person meetings at Changeability – and young attendees were thrilled and relieved to “hang out” with their peers, doing arts and crafts projects, watching their favourite TV shows, and playing board games.

Group members also got to discuss pertinent issues in a supportive setting – such as bullying, anxiety, school pressures, toxic masculinity, and body image.

Last year, meetings moved to the Featherston Community Centre after Alec relocated to Upper Hutt – but went on a brief hiatus due to ill health.

As the new co-ordinator, Raven hoped to start running in-person meetings later this year once the group’s charity status is set up – as well as launching some of its educational and outreach projects.

These includes seminars – with guest speakers – on gender identity, relationships, establishing healthy boundaries, legal rights for queer people, and sex education – which, in a school setting, often marginalises queer rangatahi.

“A lot of sex education in schools is very heteronormative and cis-centric – and they don’t tend to cover the topic of consent very well,” Alec, who is transgender, said.

“It’s important that teens know how to have safe sex as queer people, and how to navigate sex and sexuality in a trans body.”

For a more light-hearted touch, Raven hopes to organise a drag makeup and performance workshop, hosted by Wellington drag queens, and a trip to the Out in the Square celebrations.

She and Alec also plan on running workshops for schools, health professionals and counselling agencies on supporting LGBTQ+ youth, as well as information evenings for parents and caregivers.

“There are still a lot of well-meaning parents who won’t allow their queer kids to live openly as they are – because they’re scared and want to protect them,” Raven said.

“There’s still a real lack of knowledge out there, which leads to fear. But when parents are prepared to be educated, it can make the world of difference.”

So far, Alec and Raven said Wairarapa schools have been “very supportive” of the group – and they have had particularly positive responses from Rathkeale, Makoura and Wairarapa colleges, as well as UCOL.

Raven hoped to recruit a team of volunteers to work alongside the young people – preferably members of the LGBTQ+ community themselves.

“It’s important that young people have that positive representation – and that includes having adults around them they can see themselves in, and feel safe with,” they said.

  • Wairarapa Rainbow Support is still holding meetings online. For more information, go to the group’s Facebook page.

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