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March 21, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Queer Officer

This last decade has seen some landmark legal advances for queer rights and increasing social acceptance for different sexual orientations and gender identities. In 2004, the controversial Civil Unions Bill was passed, which gave gay and lesbian couples a taste of some of the rights of their heterosexual counterparts. In society, queer relationships have become more accepted and people are coming out at increasingly younger ages. From a solely holistic point of view, queer rights are on the up.

Complete acceptance of queer people, however, is far from a reality. For instance, civil unions do not allow couples to adopt or have access to many marriage rights—it is high time marriage was opened up to all sexual orientations on the basis that ‘separate is not equal.’ Furthermore, there is still uncertainty as to whether intersex people are covered under the Human Rights Act and many trans people still face problems meeting the ‘physical confirmation’ level before a family court so their gender identity can be recognised. If ‘queer rights are human rights’, we’ve got a long way to go.

Furthermore, queers still face the kind of social discrimination generally unheard of for any other kind of minority. It is not uncommon for same-sex couples to hear snide comments as they walk through Wellington holding their partners’ hands; on the odd occasion, people are even verbally and sometimes physically assaulted. Homophobic language is still considered socially acceptable among many people in society, with some justifying their homophobic language by saying that ‘gay’ means stupid. Then why is it that nearly every word used to describe queer people can be used in a negative context? There would be an outcry if people started saying “that is so black” whenever they see something they do not like. Contrary to what Miss Perry might imply, words matter.

The effects of this discrimination can have devastating and potentially deadly consequences. Many queer people still have to go through the mental torture commonly known as ‘coming out’, the likes of which straight people do not. Many queer people feel the need to describe themselves as ‘straight-acting’, yet no straight people ever feel the need to describe themselves as ‘queer-acting’. And worst of all, the suicide rate for same-sex-attracted youth is four times that of the general population. This is why I feel my job as your Queer Officer is so important. I am going to be actively raising awareness and educating people about queer issues on campus. We have come a long way in our fight discrimination, but we still have a long way to go. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any ideas or issues you might have.

Tom Reed
queer.officer@vuwsa.org.nz

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