Prime Minister, John Key is backing a nationwide diversity tour in response to more than 3,000 letters written by Kiwi youth on Pink Shirt Day, an initiative to stamp out bullying.
Starting June 7th, Olympian Blake Skjellerup and Q-Youth Executive Director Seb Stewart will be heading on a national tour of regional New Zealand high schools promoting the newly created Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) Network Aotearoa, which aims to support affected youth by developing school-based diversity groups.
John Key endorsed the initiative at a recent meeting and said he was impressed by the enthusiasm of both Blake and Seb and their effort to reduce bullying in schools throughout the country.
“The Government takes the issue of bullying very seriously, and we will continue to work alongside schools to help keep students safe,” said John Key after meeting with the pair.
Skjellerup will be giving school assembly talks, sharing his personal experience on being an Olympian and his journey to where he is today.
“As New Zealand’s only out gay professional athlete, Blake is an important role model for youth, who are often inspired by his example,” said Stewart.
“The QSA Network Aotearoa aims to empower student-led groups as they are the best way to bring about a culture change from within a school. In Nelson, five schools now have student-led Queer Straight Alliances. The support of the straight students, especially the boys, is important in setting a culture in which people are valued for who they are,” said Stewart.
Skjellerup has already engaged with Nelson youth giving assembly talks in the Nelson schools with Queer Straight Alliance groups during April.
“I have seen the support available to the youth in the Nelson region through their diversity groups and it’s invaluable. Adolescence can be a troubling time for many teens, where they often feel very alone and are left very vulnerable. Bullying on top of this sometimes pushes many youth over the edge, leading them to self-harm,” said Skjellerup.
While the tour has a strong focus on stamping out bullying of queer youth, the pair also have broader goals to establish greater acceptance of minority groups within youth communities.
“Bullying and homophobia doesn’t just affect gay youth it also affects youth who don’t fit the “classic” gender stereotypes. For example, straight males who get involved in creative arts such as dance or theatre. We want to help create an inclusive society where people are accepted and supported for who they are,” said Stewart.
Other organizations supporting the tour include the Human Rights Commission, Mental Health Foundation, PPTA and the Children’s Commissioner. Stewart and his organisation, Q-Youth is also receiving support from the Vodafone Foundation through the World of Difference programme.
The tour begins on June 7th and Stewart and Skjellerup will travel from Kaitaia to Invercargill. High Schools are encouraged to visit www.qsanetwork.org.nz for more information.