Being who you are

News — By on October 12, 2016 2:43 pm

Recent celebrations marking the thirtieth anniversary of the passage of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill remind us all what was achieved when LGBTI communities and their allies worked together to overcome longstanding social and legal inequality.

However, the campaign for reform all too often surfaced deep-seated ignorance of, and hostility towards, gay people – and for some the scars from that period remain. I’m of the generation of gay men who clearly remember life before law reform: what it was like to be legally vulnerable and to be marginalised in many important aspects of our lives, including in employment and, often, within our own families.

Much has been achieved since law reform. While in some countries homosexuality can still incur punishment by death, since 1986 in New Zealand it is much more possible than it once was to “be who you are” and to assume and express a wide range of gender and sexual identities.

The freedom to do this – to realise the fundamental human right to one’s own identity and to achieve emotional and physical security – has enriched not only the lives of gay men but also those of the clear majority of New Zealanders who value diversity.

Superhero Second Line at the Auckland Pride Parade 2016

Superhero Second Line at the Auckland Pride Parade 2016

For me, law reform made it possible to think of myself in new and more positive ways. The new climate made it easier to live as an “out” gay man and to live more authentically than had usually been possible in the earlier part of my life. In turn, these changes encouraged in me new aspirations around, finally, pursuing tertiary education at the University of Auckland and, later, a rewarding career path. Most importantly perhaps, the new political and legal climate provided the context within which the strong relationship with my partner – now approaching its own 30-year anniversary – could develop and thrive and, over time, have the same legal recognition and protections which had previously been confined to heterosexual couples.

However, and despite many advances, challenges remain. Many gay people still experience negative emotional and physical health outcomes, and continued homophobia and discrimination, indicating that the societal and cultural changes initiated by the law reformers are far from over. Growing up gay can still be a huge challenge for many young people.

Here at the University we’ve made a strong commitment to providing a safe, inclusive and equitable work and study environment for all LGBTI students and staff. This commitment, demonstrated by the designation of LGBTI students and staff as an equity group within the University’s Equity Policy, can be seen in a range of recent initiatives.

These include the University’s LGBTI student and staff network and the vibrant Rainbow Groups are now active in every faculty. The University also supports a highly visible presence at both the Big Gay Out and Pride Parade and soon the University will adopt the world’s first voluntary standard relating specifically to LGBTI study and employment, “Rainbow-inclusive workplaces: A standard for gender and sexual diversity in employment”. These commitments strongly support the University’s reputation as being safe, inclusive and equitable and also demonstrate to prospective and current students and staff and their families and communities, that every LGBTI person is valued and respected.

As a gay teenager, pre-reform, I often assumed – and was also told – that my choices, my aspirations and my relationships would be limited and would be somehow less valuable, and valued, than those of heterosexual people. Thanks in large part to the law reformers, and to the many advocates and campaigners who followed I now know that gay people can, and do, achieve the amazing.

Dr Terence O’Neill

Director, Student Equity.

If you would like to know more, or to join the LGBTI student and staff network, contact Terry on t.oneill@auckland.ac.nz or see see www.equity.auckland.ac.nz

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