IntroductionI need to start by talking about who I am, and why this is important to me.
I was adopted at birth by my Pākehā parents, who were guaranteed by the social worker that I was a Pākehā baby, so I grew up entirely in te ao Pākehā. People often asked if I’m Māori, and all I could say was, I don’t know. When I was 20, I got my original birth certificate with my mother’s name on it, and I tracked her down and met her. She is Pākehā, her and my birth father were kids and didn’t know each other for long, and he was gone by the time I was born. She gave me his name and a decade old address in Australia for him. It took me another 10 or so years before I committed to finding him, because I wanted to have children, and I want my children to know their whakapapa, whatever it may turn out to be. I eventually found him, and on his side, I’m from Ngāi Tahu.
I’d already been a bit involved in rōpū Māori when I was at uni, but I’d been uncommitted, because I couldn’t know for sure whether I had whakapapa Māori. Finding out that I do meant an obligation to find out more, to find my place, if any future children of mine were going to be comfortable. I committed to meet my father’s whānau, and find out as much as I could about us and Ngāi Tahu, and where I fit in. That went well, but some other stuff was going on that I couldn’t ignore.
At the time I was doing Te Ataarangi, and it was obvious that my girlfriend and I made a couple of people uncomfortable just by being in class. Student whakaari were at times openly mocking of gay or camp behaviour. When I came to Te Wānanga o Raukawa a year later, again, I saw what I would say was open hostility to sexualities other than heterosexual. For whatever reason, some people must have assumed I was heterosexual, and talked to me about how disgusting homosexuality is, and a kaiako talked in class about homosexuality as if it was worse than incest. It was only a minority of people, but it got my attention.
I’m not suggesting homophobia is unique to Māori. My Pākehā parents were openly homophobic until a year or so after I came out to them. Walking down the street I’ve been abused, had eggs thrown at me, and been chased by cars for holding hands with my girlfriend. At university it wasn’t uncommon to read fantasies about killing gays or lesbians in the letters to the editor of the student newspaper. Homophobia was not a new experience to me, but it got me wondering—I’d had years to find a place for myself in te ao Pākehā, would there be a place for me in te ao Māori? Would that be somewhere I could feel comfortable—as someone who was raised Pākehā, for whom mātauranga Māori is really new, and who is queer. Is it worth trying to find a place here? In the same way that many of us have to act Pākehā to fit into the colonising culture, am I going to have to act straight to fit into te ao Māori? Will there be somewhere that can accept all of me?
This was a question in the back of my mind when I was a student in Ahunga Tikanga classes, listening to Ani Mikaere, Moana Jackson and Leah Whiu talking lovely stuff about whakapapa, ngā kaupapa, inclusion and balance. Everything they said made sense and sounded great, but at the same time I was getting other messages from other places, about excluding people who are different, about disgust and fear of sexual difference in particular, which sounded pretty similar to my experience in Pākehā culture. What was pono? Is there space for me in te ao Māori?
That is where the question started for me, and answering it has taken me in a few different directions. My understanding of this hui is that it is about making sure our tikanga are true to ngā kaupapa mai rā anō, keeping them relevant and adaptive. Hopefully, by the end of this talk, you’ll have some ideas about sexuality and tikanga that adequately reflect our kaupapa.
Before I go on, I want to define two words that I will use in this talk.
Queer (not kuia): a label for those of us who don’t think well-defined boxes are a helpful way to think about gender or sexuality. My partner pointed out to me that it’s hard to hear the difference between queer and kuia. In this talk, I might describe myself as queer, I am not claiming to be a kuia.
Homophobia: the belief that heterosexuality is normal and healthy, and that anything else is wrong, depraved, unhealthy or dangerous.
Colonisation = oppression = trauma
“Oppression is trauma. Every form of inequity has a traumatic impact on the psychology, emotionality and spirituality of the oppressed.” (Akili, 2012)When Yolo Akili says oppression is trauma, he is not saying anything we don’t already know about the effect of oppression on our wairua, but I thought this was a good place to start, because we can agree on it.
We can agree on it, because we live with the ongoing effects of colonisation. We know that colonisation is oppression, and we know the trauma of that oppression in our communities and in our lives. Part of the oppression is the acts of the colonisers—taking our land, spreading diseases, imprisoning us, outlawing our ways of being. The oppression is also the messages that they say about us to justify and minimise their crimes against us.
Many of us internalised the messages we heard, and we know many of our young people will internalise the messages they hear—that Māori are physical and emotional, meaning we aren’t smart enough to look after ourselves or our whenua; that we aren’t moral like the colonisers; that we are violent and overly sexual. Politicians and the media go out of their way to find stories of Māori failure, especially those that show us as naive, immoral and out of control.
We know the effects of this oppression: there is massive pressure to conform to the dominant, colonising values. Some of us do eventually conform, while others can’t or won’t. For all of us, whether we conform or not, oppression tears at our wairua, the sense of self that should make us strong.
Like all indigenous peoples who are living through colonisation, Māori now have high rates of suicide as well as high-risk and anti-social behaviours. This is the effect of the trauma caused by the oppression of colonisation, it is an attack on our wairua. It leads to a whole bunch of outcomes that we all know and I’m not going to go into—I think we can accept that colonisation is oppression, which is trauma. And just as colonisation is very clearly oppression so too is the repression of sexual diversity.
Sexual repression = oppression = traumaWhat I’m calling sexual repression are the acts and messages that say that sexual diversity is wrong—that anyone who isn’t heterosexual is abnormal, or deviant or immoral, and is somehow a threat to society, or tikanga or family values, whatever those are. Clearly, that is about oppressing people, and it must therefore be an attack on their wairua.
When I was a child, we used words like faggot and lesbian before we had a clue what they meant other than they were something really bad. I don’t know where we got these words from, but I don’t remember anyone ever being told off for using them. Boys were mocked for being girly by adults and by other kids—there are so many words for boys who aren’t appropriately masculine. Sexual or gender difference, being gay or camp, is still the punchline of so many jokes. And most of us will internalise those messages. Whoever we grow up to be, these are really damaging and limiting messages. The effect is similar to colonial oppression—there is massive pressure on all of us to conform to the dominant heterosexual standard. Most of us try to, and for those of us who can’t, if we internalise these messages, we will learn to hate ourselves.
I’m going to talk about shame, because I think it’s important to understand what it’s like to grow up in a culture that is terrified of sexual difference, and I want you to think about a response to that culture which expresses our kaupapa. Should we buy into homophobia, should we allow ourselves to be silenced and timid, or should we protect our tamariki mokopuna?
When I think of my experience as a child, I don’t remember any particular homophobic incidents, but just growing up in Pākehā culture in the 1970s and 80s was like soaking in homophobia. Everything told me that heterosexuality was normal and healthy, and anything else was sick. I remember when homosexual law reform was going through parliament, there was lots of talk about how homosexuals are paedophiles and law reform was opening the door to bestiality. There was all sorts of hateful fear mongering. My parents were saying this stuff too. I knew that homosexuality terrified people because something about it was so sick and disgusting.
Exactly the same hate came out 20 years later when parliament started talking about the Civil Unions bill, and we’re seeing it again now with the Marriage Equality bill. Almost exactly the same words. Whenever anyone tries to remove some anti-homosexual discrimination, we all get a massive dose of hate speech, which is particularly dangerous for children.
I heard all that in the mid 1980s when I was 11 or so, well before I was thinking about what sexuality meant to me. I already knew that something about me was different from other girls. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew there was something wrong with the way I was with my friends and with boys. I was 14 when I started going out with girls, and then everything became much clearer, but also worse, because I knew what people thought of people like me. No-one could know, so I became secretive. I became physically self-conscious and reserved. I didn’t touch anyone, especially not other girls, unless I absolutely had to. I wouldn’t go near children. I had this facade of who I was, and it was completely unrelated to me and what I was feeling. For years, everything about me was fake and was about hiding this awful secret. I still carry some of that self-hatred, that expectation that people will be disgusted or scared to let me be around their children. A lot of people I’ve talked to who aren’t heterosexual relate to this, and some wrote about it in Sexuality and the stories of indigenous people (Hutchings & Aspin, 2007).
I know for most children, first crushes are both exciting and terrifying, and coming into your sexuality is also exciting and terrifying. Ideally, children can talk to their friends about it, or better still their parents. People are excited when children start showing those signs. For lots of young queer people, it is just terrifying. It feels life threatening, and it actually is.
By the age of 21, about a third of young people who are attracted to their own gender will have tried to kill themselves (Suicide Prevention Resource Centre, 2008; in New Zealand, Fergusson, Horwood & Beautrais, 1999). The messages they hear about homosexuals are so clear and hateful that the thought of being one, or trying to live as one, is just too awful.
Why am I talking about this? My point isn’t to bring you down—my point is that how we talk about sexuality or respond to homophobia isn’t abstract or an academic interest. This isn’t a philosophical debate about rights or political views. This is about the survival of our children, just like fighting the racist environments in some of our schools is about survival. To bring it back to the kaupapa of this hui, our tikanga should be helping us to survive as Māori, not killing us.
We give children messages about sexuality and gender in many ways. Teaching them to be ashamed, controlling how we behave as girls and boys, talking about heterosexuality as if it is the only normal option as opposed to just a common way of being, laughing at people who are different—none of this will make us heterosexual. All it does is make us scared of who we might be. It makes us all police our own behaviour. For those of us who can’t be straight, it may teach us to hate ourselves, and make us scared to show ourselves to you. We may become secretive and isolated. It is an attack on our mana, and our wairua. At best, it makes it harder for each of us to reach our potential, at worst, it is so effective that it kills us.
These messages are a form of cultural imperialism, just like colonisation. Those with more power are using it to suppress those with less. Those who are heterosexual are trying to impose their way of being over everyone else, sometimes with the power of the state, sometimes with the authority given to them by a religious text, sometimes with nothing more than numerical dominance and the same self-righteousness that the colonisers wear. It’s all the same.
When I was putting this together, I kept being reminded of Whatarangi Winiata’s paper Treaty of Waitangi: towards 2000, and his analysis of why Māori do poorly now compared to Pākehā:
It is difficult to find a field of human endeavour and development where policies of the Crown have not been prejudicial to Māori. It is probably the single most important factor explaining Māori experience in the last century and a half.(Winiata, unpublished, p 6). He talks about all the ways that the Crown have on the one hand supported Pākehā ways of being, and on the other hand suppressed Māori ways of being, and the effect that this has had on the success, or otherwise, of Pākehā and Māori. He discusses the effects on how we each see each other, how we see ourselves, and the futures we are able to imagine for ourselves.
The racist practices that Whatarangi describes privilege a Pākehā way of being as normal and right, while pathologising Māori ways of being, and lead to the horrible statistics and health outcomes we all know. To me, this seems parallel to how heterosexual ways of being have been privileged by the Crown, by churches and eventually by our communities and whānau, while at the same time, other ways of being have been suppressed. This has meant that many young queer people struggle with who they will be and what their future will look like, for exactly the same reasons that young Māori often struggle with these questions (and it is likely that this is particularly true of young people who are both queer and Māori). Because almost everywhere we turn, it is being drummed into us that we are different, and lesser, and wrong—and we are then blamed for the inevitable outcomes.
As I’ve said, this is all true of Pākehā culture, but from my limited experience, and from talking to and reading about the experiences of other Māori, I think there are the same destructive attitudes and behaviours in many Māori communities. I would argue, there is a lack of leadership and willingness to talk about why. I’ll talk about our leaders in a moment, but first I want to talk about our children.
Homophobia at schoolThere are at least two places where our children should expect to feel safe—at home and at school. There is very little research that has been done on sexuality and health, and of the studies looking at youth, they almost all focus on school.
In a survey of New Zealand high school students, compared to students who identified as exclusively heterosexual, twice as many same-sex attracted students were afraid that someone would hurt or bother them at school, three times as many had stayed away from school because they were afraid someone would hurt or bother them, three times as many were bullied weekly at school, and 54% had been physically assaulted in the last 12 months (compared with 42% of exclusively heterosexual students); of the same-sex attracted students who were bullied, one third were bullied because they were perceived to be gay (Rossen, Lucassen, Denny & Robinson, 2009, p 26). A US study suggests that not only is homophobic violence commonly experienced, a surprising number of people are perpetrating it—one in ten university students admit physical violence or threats against people they suspect of being homosexual, and one in four admit verbally abusing them (Franklin, 2000).
It is common for students to see their schools as poor at responding to any form of bullying (Carroll-Lind, 2009, pp 41-47, 77; Painter, 2009, p 11). Many schools aren’t proactive about dealing with homophobic abuse, they don’t talk positively about sexual diversity, they don’t challenge ideas that heterosexuality is normal and everything else is deviant and wrong, or that people who are different deserve abuse and ridicule (Carroll-Lind, 2009, p 61; Painter, 2009, pp 22, 25). Often when homophobic abuse is happening, schools still won’t address the real problem (Carroll-Lind, 2009, pp 46-47). Schools might deal with the physical violence, but not the underlying attitude; they might deal with the perpetrator, but not the culture that allows bullying (Carroll-Lind, 2009, pp 134-135). It’s not uncommon for victims of homophobic abuse to be blamed for provoking the abuse by being homosexual (Painter, 2009, p 12). Even in the face of ongoing physical violence to children because they are perceived to be homosexual, some schools will continue to claim that they provide a safe environment for their students (Kendall & Sidebotham, 2004, pp 71-72). Some principals and boards refuse to see homophobic attitudes as something they should be addressing in school (Painter, 2009, pp 12, 20-21).
Whether we’re talking about race or perceived sexuality or gender, when schools fail to challenge hatred of any sort, they give a clear message that it is okay, and that there is something wrong with the victims. Studies consistently show that these messages are associated with the physical, emotional and social harm that I’ve been talking about, the self hatred, the isolation and the suicide (eg, Suicide Prevention Resource Centre, 2008, pp 19-28 and references therein; Ryan, Huebner, Diaz & Sanchez, 2009, pp 346, 350-351, and references therein).
I hope we can all agree that this is something we should be protecting our children from.
Homophobia at homeMuch less is known about the effect of attitudes at home. The first study came out in 2009 (Ryan, Huebner, Diaz & Sanchez, 2009), and it gives clear indications of how whānau rejection, even in relatively subtle forms, can have a huge impact on the health of queer youth. The researchers interviewed a bunch of young adults who had come out to at least one of their parents as an adolescent. From those interviews, they made a list of 51 rejecting behaviours—things like, if their parents ever blamed them for anti-gay mistreatment, if they were ever excluded from whānau activity because of sexuality, if family members ever made disparaging comments about queer people in front of them, or verbally or physically abused them because of their sexuality.
Participants were assigned to groups based on whether they experienced few (0-11), some (more than 11 and up to half), or more than half of these behaviours. These groups turned out to be a good predictor of negative health outcomes, particularly for attempted suicide, where over two thirds of those in the group who had experienced more than half the rejecting behaviours had attempted suicide, compared to one in five in the group with the least rejection.
This study only included young people who had come out to a parent during adolescence—you’d expect participants to come from less homophobic homes than those of us who waited until we’d left home to tell our parents. So these results may be underestimating the effect of homophobic experiences at home. Reading this study really drove home to me how dangerous homophobic attitudes and behaviour can be.
I know I’ve been saying all through this talk how marginalising sexual or gender differences is similar to the way we are marginalised as Māori, but in the home there is a really big distinction. Most Māori children are raised by at least one Māori parent, and the family knows that their children are Māori. Māori parents know what it’s like to be raised in a racist society, and may have some idea of how to protect their children from the stuff they will encounter. Most Māori children probably feel pretty safe talking to their parents about racism that they see or hear, and asking for help understanding or dealing with it. Whereas almost all queer children are born to heterosexual parents, who have no idea what it’s like to grow up queer in a homophobic society, and who don’t know that their children will be queer. The parents of queer children may have no idea how to protect them from the messages they will get, or even that they need to. The parents may themselves be homophobic.
Many of our whānau are not safe places for queer children, and I’d argue that if they aren’t safe for queer children, they aren’t safe for any children. Not just because we can’t know who our children will grow up to be, but also because hatred isn’t safe for children—white children are endangered by growing up with racists, boys are endangered by growing up with misogynists, and heterosexual children are endangered by growing up with homophobes.
Is repression of sexual diversity tika?I want to start with the question of whether or not sexual diversity is traditional. This is an impossible question, because the answer will depend on how far back we go, and who we ask. One of the themes through this hui has been the ways that our tikanga may become distorted or co-opted, so some of us get the idea that something is traditional when it is clearly a relatively new development. The more useful question is whether or not something is consistent with what we know to be tika—based on kaupapa mai rā anō (or ngā matapono).
In class recently, Moana Jackson was talking to Ahunga Tikanga students about relationships of any sort, whether a parent child relationship, a relationship between workmates, or between institutions, or sexual partners, and how you know whether those relationships are tika. It seems obvious that the gender or sexuality of the people in those relationships is pretty much irrelevant to that question. If the relationships are based on mutual respect, manaakitanga, aroha, then they are tika, irrespective of anything else.
The question of whether heterosexuality is more tika than other ways of loving or relating or having sex with each other seems ridiculous to me. I can’t imagine a kaupapa-based argument that justifies marginalising people based on who they are attracted to. I can’t think of anything resembling kaupapa that would judge me as more or less depending on the gender of the people I love. Any attempt to reduce my mana based on who I sleep with is an insult to my whānau, my whakapapa and all my tūpuna. I cannot accept that as kaupapa or tika.
One of the comparisons that is often made between western culture and most indigenous cultures is that indigenous peoples know we are all different, and that those differences are not just valid, but potentially valuable. We don’t need to feel better about ourselves by trying to dictate anyone else’s tikanga—we just have to get our own stuff right for us. I think this is relevant to how we think about other people’s relationships.
I expect we all know when our wairua is healthy. We feel good, grounded, sure in who we are, safe. When I start focusing on what other people are doing wrong, I know I need to sort myself out. So I don’t see how it can be tika to insult and demean people in healthy relationships because the set up of those relationships is different from what I would choose. If I’m judging other people like that, it’s a pretty good sign that there’s something going on with my own wairua that I need to address.
So if policing people’s sexualities in this way isn’t tikanga, where did it come from?
Colonisation and sexual repressionWe know the West is a seriously unhealthy culture. It forces itself on everyone else. It tries to stamp out difference. I don’t know why it is so obsessed with who sleeps with whom, but it is, to a really bizarre extent.
When Europeans arrived here, they brought with them their fear and hatred of homosexuality. In English law at that time, homosexuality could be punished by hard labour or even death. It’s only been 25 years since the New Zealand state got rid of the law that could imprison men for consensual sex with other men.
When we look to our parents and grandparents for guidance on how to think about different sexualities, we need to remember that for generations we have lived under that strange legal system. Our parents and grandparents, and their grandparents, have been educated in schools and churches based on western values. There are very few places to avoid the awful messages of that culture—remember that it called our tikanga primitive and violent, then told us that we needed to beat our children, our men needed to dominate women and we all needed to hate homosexuality.
Our parents or kaumātua may genuinely believe that there is something wrong with homosexuality. They may genuinely believe that it is traditional to stifle some people’s ways of being. After a couple of hundred years of colonisers trying to shame us into rejecting our values and adopting theirs, that’s hardly surprising. That’s the reason it is so important that we have hui like these to talk about tikanga and kaupapa.
African American activist and academic Angela Davis is clear about where she thinks homophobia comes from:
The roots of sexism and homophobia are found in the same economic and political institutions that serve as the foundation of racism in this country.(Davis, 1989, p 12). She is talking about the US, but it’s equally true here—it’s the desire to force what makes sense to me onto everyone else. As I said earlier, whether we are talking about homophobia, sexism, or racism, it’s all about cultural imperialism.
Heteropatriarchy and homophobiaI want to talk specifically about how we’ve come to buy into this western preoccupation about how and with whom we have sex. I know we’re all familiar with the way patriarchy has been creeping into interpretations of tikanga and kōrero tawhito, but I think it’s helpful to think about the way that patriarchy privileges certain men more than others, and the effect of that.
For example, at the time the English decided they wanted to colonise these motu, their ideal man was the Victorian gentleman. The men that England sent to control us were pretty much in that mould. They weren’t aristocracy, and they hadn’t gone to the flash schools, they were earning their place as gentlemen through their occupations—the military, the church, and the government. Like all social climbers, they brought with them an unwavering belief in that society’s rules. They taught us what it was to be a leader, and how to get those attributes—through private schools, manly sports and Christianity. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say some of us are leaning this way now. If we add business people to the list of career pathways, and replace aristocracy with whakapapa, we are starting to describe a path that many of us would see as ideal for developing our young men into iwi leaders.
One of the things that is interesting about this, is that in general, men, people educated in private schools, people who play dominant sports (in this country, rugby, soccer, cricket and softball), and people with Christian beliefs have each been shown to be associated with more homophobic attitudes (Osborne & Wagner, 2007, pp 599, 601, 607-609, and references therein). If we do follow this pattern for developing leadership, we are pretty much guaranteeing that we will develop sexual repression, and that our children will be subjected to that sexual repression, which will limit the development and potential of most of them, and will endanger the lives of some of them.
What can we do?
Re-broaden our concept of leadershipOne thing that I think would make a big difference is if our leadership (whatever we mean by that) reflected the diversity of our communities. I’m not knocking any of the contributions anyone has made, but I think we should be asking why the people who make up groups like the Iwi Chairs forum or the Māori Council seem so similar. What messages does it give our young people if they can’t see anyone like them being recognised as having mana?
Make our schools saferWe need to make sure our schools are safe for all our children. This means being proactive. Schools need to talk to children about sexual and gender diversity in a safe and accepting way. This must happen before the negative messages sink in—starting when children are 10 or 11, not leaving it until they’re already sexually active, or avoiding it altogether. It means tackling any homophobic attitudes or behaviour that the children bring to school with them. Staff need to be educated and trained so they don’t bring damaging attitudes with them. Schools need to be a safe place for staff to be open about their sexuality and gender. Finally, it means educating parents so that they are onboard.
Make our whānau saferMost importantly, we have to decide whether it is more important to us that our children meet our expectations, or that they are safe to be whoever they may be. Is it more important that we shame our children into acting like we want? That we pretend they’re someone who they’re not? Or that we have a real relationship with them? What is more tika? What is most in line with our kaupapa?
If we want our children to be safe and happy and meet their potential, then we have to be prepared to accept them, and love them whoever they turn out to be. We have to make sure they know that.
The Continuum of AwesomenessI like to think of our goal in terms of an awesome continuum, on which I’d like to see us all pushing ourselves towards the more awesome end of the spectrum.
In the top left, intolerance is anything that tells our children it’s not acceptable to be different—abuse or statements like there’s no gayness in tikanga Māori, or anything that condones abuse or mocking of difference. Treating gay men as if they’re women, which reveals disrespect for both women and gay men. Anything like that is intolerant, and we want to avoid it.
Tolerance is a bit better than intolerance, it means not actively excluding or insulting people that we know to be different from ourselves, but at the same time, it assumes that heterosexuality is so normal and healthy, that we can ignore the reality that not everyone is heterosexual. For example, I might assume that every child, and everyone I know is heterosexual unless they tell me otherwise, which means I don’t have to be careful about what I or anyone else does that would insult people who aren’t heterosexual. It’s much like the Crown acts around ethnicity, it treats us as if we are all white. Māori are not actually excluded from Pākehā society, we’re just expected to change to fit in. Because we assume that every child will grow up to be heterosexual, we don’t bother to protect them from hate or carelessness. We let them see sexual and gender diversity being mocked, or compared to paedophilia, or hear their queer whanaunga described as disgusting, as if this has no effect. Tolerance actually allows intolerance to flourish.
Acceptance is just that, anything that lets our children know that they are awesome and loved whoever they are. It is their whakapapa that gives them a place in their whānau, and everything else is just detail. It also means challenging any homophobic behaviour to protect them from those messages.
Celebration means going out of our way to give positive messages about otherwise marginalised genders or sexualities, as a way of fighting the messages that our children will get outside of our control. For example, loving acceptance probably isn’t a sufficient response if a child has just heard that a prominent Māori leader dreams of a world without gays, or one of their friends has been beaten up for looking queer, or they’re being called faggot or dyke. If a child tells us that they are queer, we should be stoked that they trust us, that they are sharing themselves with us, and we should show them that. If a child is brave enough to express themselves in a way that others are reading as queer, we should celebrate their uniqueness and bravery. Celebration might mean talking to our children about all the different crushes we’ve had, or acknowledging all the crushes they have had, not acting like there is something different about their friendships depending on the gender of their friend. Celebration is anything that lets our children know that whoever they are will be awesome.
If tikanga are the behaviours that express our values, I thought I could use Whatarangi Winiata’s kaupapa matrix model to work backwards (Winiata, 2012). If we think of each of the points on the continuum as a set of behaviours, if they are tika, we should be able to say which kaupapa they are expressing.
Starting with intolerance, which kaupapa am I expressing if I am excluding or attacking my whanaunga based on who they sleep with? It might be a reflection of how little I know, but I couldn’t think of any. Looking at tolerance, which kaupapa am I expressing when I am polite to my whanaunga, while judging them as inferior? Or including them, but expecting them to hide who they are? Again, I couldn’t think of any kaupapa that fit this tikanga. The kaupapa become apparent when we look at the behaviours that show acceptance. Acceptance is an expression of a whole bunch of kaupapa—whanaungatanga, aroha, manaakitanga, rangatiratanga, whakapapa. Finally, looking at celebration, it expresses many of the same kaupapa as acceptance.
Some people will feel that celebration is a step too far—that acceptance is enough. In an ideal world, I would say acceptance is the most tika behaviour. But we live with a dominant culture that condones homophobia. To come back to the analogy with Pākehā culture oppressing tikanga, one response to a culture that makes it hard to live as Māori, is that we celebrate what it means to be Māori, we positively promote Māori ways of being. Many Pākehā are resistant to this, they see affirmative action and celebrations of our ‘Māoriness’ as reverse racism. We know they are wrong, and we can extend that analysis to repression of sexual diversity, even if it initially makes us a bit uncomfortable.
The point of this continuum isn’t to judge where we each are as parents or friends. We will probably all struggle to overcome the culture that we have been raised in, I certainly do. This is where we need to think about whose kaupapa we are expressing. Western culture has been all about controlling and limiting us, tikanga should be about all of us reaching our potential. My challenge to you, is to make sure you are reflecting the values you want to. Be more awesome, so those around you can feel safe enough to be who they are meant to be. Be brave enough to be uncomfortable. Be brave enough to fight for sexual and gender diversity education in your children’s and grandchildren’s schools. Be brave enough to love your whole child, and your whole self. We know we aren’t going to fully realise tino rangatiratanga unless Pākehā get a bit uncomfortable and give up some power. It’s the same with sexual diversity.
Like I said earlier, no amount of hatred, bullying or abuse is going to make anyone heterosexual, it will only make people hide themselves from you. Don’t be that person. If you don’t know anyone who isn’t heterosexual, if you think everyone in your whānau is heterosexual, then that is a reflection on the impression you have made. You can change that impression.
We need to be clear that homophobia does not come from tikanga. It comes from the colonisers. Whakapapa is about inclusion—there needs to be a really good reason to exclude or demean someone in any way. Who they sleep with is not a good reason. Our children grow up in an environment where they will see, hear and experience hatred of different sexualities. Whoever they grow up to be, these messages are dangerous. These messages will limit how our children see themselves and who they can imagine being.
At the moment, we have so much unhelpful hatred and intolerance passing as debate about marriage and adoption equality, and if there’s one thing I want you to get from this talk, it’s that we need to change that conversation. Our children don’t need to be protected from homosexuality, they need to be protected from hate. People loving each other will never endanger children, homophobia will.
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