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August 2, 2015 | by  | in Features |
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We Need Community

Interview with Kassie Hartendorp, Youth Worker

How do you identify?

In the past I’ve used words like queer cis woman, pansexual makes sense as well. At the moment I think of myself as takataapui and a part of that wider history.

What was it like for you growing up as queer?

My challenges reflected anyone growing up in a small town in Aotearoa. I did not know any people who were gay. Visibility was a huge thing. I moved out of Whanganui as soon as I could and got to Wellington where I knew there would be more awesome people. It made me feel better about myself.

Can you describe your work with queer youth?

My paid work is as a youth worker and in that job I often do one-on-one work with young people. That may be mentoring or it may be navigating any number of issues that are affecting their lives that may have nothing to do with being sexuality or gender diverse. But they may want to come in and have some help with WINZ, or they need some help getting into education. Part of that is working out gender and sexuality identity. I do a lot of one-on-one work with my youth work. Then I also do a bit of behind the scenes stuff in terms of supporting Schools OUT, which I have done for the past five years or so, and supporting Tranzform behind the scenes.

I think it is about building community capacity… it is about fostering and supporting other leaders and people to agency in their own lives. Under that stuff, it’s helping with events that come up. Earlier this week I helped with some free voice coaching sessions for gender diverse young people and making sure they can access the support and the services that they need. Another project I am involved in is Box Oceania—that is a group of non-straight people who are indigenous and people of colour, and it was founded by women and non-binary people. It is about creating a space for people who don’t fit into the mainstream gay scene, to create inclusive spaces for us to be able to find our identity and tautoko each other.

What are the needs of queer youth?

That is massive question, obviously. While I would say needs are not the same across every queer young person, there are definitely trends for sure, so I guess one thing is isolation. Luckily, with the internet a lot of people have been able to link up in ways they would not have been able to 20 years ago. The first people I talked to about my sexuality were all online, and it was safe because they did not know me, they weren’t in my hometown, [and] they did not know my family. It became a safe place. It is important to fight isolation in those ways, but also there [are] a lot of people who don’t access the internet in the same way who are isolated from their families or their communities, and to link them back in where it is safe and possible.

Also, recognising that there are a whole bunch of variables for humanity—that people do not recognise that intersex is a thing. Without being recognised, how will you be able to do some more work in terms of advocating for yourself? Where do you exist in those in-between spaces? You’re not seen or heard and you’re not even validated. Recognition and validation are extremely important. On the ground I think as well a lot of young people I see I would say [that they] still have problems with their families. It’s often very social. Transgender young people are far more likely to be facing discrimination and difficulties in terms of accessing jobs, accessing healthcare, accessing any sort of support. The way I see it is approaching things in a quite intersectional way. In a way that acknowledges that it is never going to be one area that affects someone. It is multifaceted along the lines of class, ethnicity race, gender forms of gender identity. What does it mean to be non-binary? What does it mean to be a transman, or a transwoman, or whakawahine, or fa’afafine?

What are way to promote diversity within the queer community so queer youth can see what they can become?

Being able to see people is so key, so for that reason I’m interested in intergenerational work. Knowing that we have a whole bunch of trans people, we have a whole bunch of queer people who have existed in our communities that have been doing this work for a long time. To be able to see them, talk to them and know that they exist, to know that they have successful lives is so key. All of my role models are fierce queer women—if I did not have that in the back of my head when I am navigating really difficult situations in life and professional life and politics, I would feel a little compass-less. There are different ways you can increase representation. Capitalism is always able to be bringing in and involving marginalised groups, albeit in small and unsatisfactory ways. We need to be breaking out of having a seat at the table to be able to get representation or power. How we can build our own table, look after our own communities be able to advocate in a way that really reflects us, instead of creating gatekeepers who sit at the table and speak for us?

What can medical institutions can do to improve lives of queer youth?

Acknowledging that [some] people that are not straight, not cis, and are intersex—[they] exist, are real and are there whether or not you like it… The National Suicide Prevention Plan from a couple of years ago didn’t even include anything about the LGBTIQ community at all, and yet we are so overrepresented in suicidality and depression. We do not even know figures around homelessness in our communities, and homeless communities tend to be difficult to collect data on so I guess it’s really important… to be making authentic relationships with people that these issues affect and then working on how those key issues can be addressed. That is the only way I can see it being addressed along those who live it. Those are the first steps. I dream of healthcare centres being run by trans people for trans people. Right now people aren’t even being recognised as existing on the most basic levels.

Evolve is the leader in Wellington for accessible healthcare for trans youth. What has Evolve implemented to make it so easy for trans people and queer youth to go there?

In terms of Evolve, it has always been having people there who are really committed to actually working to make a change and decreasing barriers for young people, particularly marginalised young people, to access healthcare. You have people that really want to do that and you have people in that space who are really pushing for that to happen. Having people in a place that genuinely care—I think that our staff are never going to judge someone who walks through those doors. You need to have an environment and a kaupapa that is truly non-judgemental.

I guess some of the things have been worked on. Having conversations, for example, on what forms look like. If we come up against a situation where, for instance, the National Health Index only allows for you to say you are either male or female, and if you say you are unknown then the service does not get funding for that person. Being able to have conversations with people when we come up against limits, we want to know how we can make it work in the best way. We make sure if some has to use their legal name, we have alerts that say “use these pronouns”. We are able to have conversations about what healthcare looks like for those young people and most accessible for those young people.

Having a strong relationship with Schools OUT and Tranzform, we have those groups taking place on our premises, we consult with those groups when we want to make some changes, we want to create practice and accessible care and support for young people. It’s not all about theorising, but what is going to make life easier for these young people right now, with the resources we’ve got. Another thing, which seems really basic, is having signs on our toilets that are gender neutral. Acknowledging gender diverse young people always facing so many barriers in their everyday life. Gender is always going to be on their minds. What you do to pull down some of those walls. Wherever you walk in those doors, where ever you are, I hope this is the one place where you don’t need to worry about that. Go there and be treated like someone who deserves care. Evolve and other youth services are really pushing this. Youth services are getting on their game in terms of this because they see so many young people who are coming in, and if indeed we are functioning within a transgender tipping point, the youth services are the places that are seeing it, especially in urban areas.

What exists are pockets of places that really care, so they are able to do the good work but the issue is that there is no real push for every place to care? Evolve youth services end at 26. I regularly have people contacting me saying “hey I’m real gutted coz I’m over 26 and I need healthcare”. I know Evolve can only fund within a small scope, but we need to be making sure that we have support for older trans people. It is a hit and miss which GP or hospital you go, and whether they know what being gender diverse means and whether they can be culturally competent in work with that person. We need a standard implemented with Aotearoa New Zealand, otherwise this will always be a hit and miss. Medical professionals will err on the side of caution and there is no clear pathway or guidelines about what to do they are going to keep erring on the side of caution and run the risk of becoming gatekeepers to people getting the healthcare that they really need. If you are able to provide best practice guidelines and be able to implement them and train with them, then you are going to be able to make a huge difference in those people’s lives.

What can schools do?

There needs to [be] recognition that schools have a duty of care for young people that allows for a safe learning environment. Many schools are not safe learning environments for a whole range of young people, not just gender and sexuality diverse youth. [We need to be] acknowledging that and really seeing the need to create better spaces for our young people to be in. There are a whole raft of ways schools can be doing this. It would be useful for the Government to put more of a push on including cultural competency in this area in ERO reports. Being able [to] withstand the pressure of communities and of parents is a big thing as well, and a lot of schools will take the cop out route of “we can’t do this, we can’t be seen to be catering more to gay people or trans people coz the parents will get angry or there will be a big fuss” and that is not good enough. We need to acknowledge that schools aren’t always safe for their staff to be out in as well. If you have a school environment where teachers can’t be out, how do you create an environment for young people to be out? There is a huge amount of work that needs to be done.

Any last comments?

Be awesome friends. Be awesome family members. Work with others to be able to create a change for society that doesn’t allow this to happen again and again. Be willing to create the change you want to see. We have to be wary of creating a dynamic that allows for some gay people and some trans people to succeed and have good lives, when overall [most of] the same people aren’t able to do it… We are allowing some people to progress without acknowledging that all of our struggles are interconnected and that is not enough.

I’ve seen lots of things come in leaps and bounds when it comes to Pakeha communities organising for themselves to be able to have access to what they need to access and do what they need to do. But there is still a long way to go in terms of those who are not Pakeha, people who live in rural areas, and people that are poorer. That unsettles me. It makes me uncomfortable when it is so interconnected.

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