ANZASW observes the International Day Against Homophobia…

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers observes the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia 2019.

Today, we celebrate sexual and gender diversity in our communities and welcome the fact that more people than ever are free to identify their gender and love whom they choose. We welcome the progress that has occurred, both in Aotearoa New Zealand and worldwide, in terms of these fundamental human rights.

However, we also note that social attitudes, legal restrictions and doctrinal teachings that constrain these same rights still exist in many places, including Aotearoa New Zealand.

Because of this, the Association believes that New Zealanders must not become complacent about homophobia, transphobia and biphobia. This is especially so given that the rainbow community has much higher than average rates ofattempted or completed suicide and continue to experience overt, undisclosed or indirect discrimination.

For this reason, we believe that self-reflection is required by all of us today to consider the ways in which we can be allies to people with diverse genders, sexualities and sex characteristics.

ANZASW member and Massey University Professor of Social Work, Mark Henrickson said: “What we need to be mindful of on a day like this is that it can encourage us to focus on “the other” – as if the other: the bisexual, the transgender, the bisexual, gay or lesbian and so forth were somehow the [persons] out there we need to focus on.”

“This is really a day when we need to focus on cis-gender heteronormativity,” he continued, adding: ”This day encourages individuals to say wait a minute, this isn’t just about people out there. It’s about all of us, and the way we have been hegemonised and the way we live with cis-gender heteronormative values.”

Elizabeth Kerekere, Founder/Chair of Tīwhanawhana Trust, emphasising the importance of cisgendered people to challenge themselves to learn more about how they can be a better ally, “so that as cis people we don’t always have to rely on our trans, intersex and gender diverse whanau to educate us all the time. On a personal level, we take some responsibility.”

In addition to listening, she added that it was essential to support communities to articulate their own needs, with allies helping to spread their message, not to control it.

“As allies, we take their voice and we amplify it. We don’t try to replace it. We don’t try and speak on their behalf, which seems to me, is not rocket science!” she reflected.

ANZASW member, social worker and counsellor Bernice Tyree echoed this point, noting that in social work “the client is the expert, and it’s through us being able to listen that our skills become greater- the resource we offer them to have to be empowering.”

She added that the high rates of suicide in the Rainbow community are a sign that appropriate support for children / tamariki and young people / rangatahi who are experiencing distress in relation to their sexual or gender identification needs to be more readily available at an early stage.

Stressing the importance of early intervention, she said “if that education is introduced into schools at an appropriate age, or if there’s somewhere that a student can go to if they start to question who they are or how they’re feeling that’s so important… what we’re trying to ensure is that people get early engagement.”

She added that it is essential for social workers to ensure that they are as competent as they possible can be in working with the Rainbow community, through making efforts to seek out education where they may have gaps in their knowledge.

“I think social work is starting a new era now with the reforms that are happening with the mandatory registration process people are going to know who they can go to get good support and good advice,” she noted.

This is a point that Dr Henrickson also raised. “In some cases, some of us don’t even know what we don’t know, so this requires us to be self-reflective and to upskill ourselves,” he said.

“I do research in this field constantly and I am constantly updating my language as I become aware of how it can become oppressive or how it can contain a lot of assumptions within it, and I get aid to keep up with this, and it’s hard to do, so what I want to say to very busy social workers is this is a moment to pause, to reflect to become aware that there’ a lot that we don’t know. And we need to be willing to take advantage of the educational opportunities around us to learn what it is that we don’t know so that we can be competent social work practitioners,” he added.

“What we need is commitment by practitioners, by academics, by social workers around the country to produce the kind of continuing professional development opportunities to help us learn what we don’t know and to fill and address those competency gaps that we all have. And then each and every one of us needs to make a commitment to take advantage of those opportunities as well,” he concluded.