The LICK Auckland crew are back in The Woods this weekend, throwing a party like you've never seen to celebrate their third birthday. Being the philanthropic and community-oriented ladies that they are, they're donating $5 from every ticket sold to Rainbow Youth, a K'Rd local and champion of support, information, and advocacy for young queer and trans* people for nearly thirty years.
We caught up with Duncan Matthews, Rainbow Youth's Executive Director, to chat about the day-to-day function of the organisation, what social progress looks like, and making a home among the K'Rd community.
Nice to meet you, Duncan. How did you come to be involved in Rainbow Youth, and what does your day-to-day work involve?
Nice to meet you too, Chlöe!
I first got involved with RainbowYOUTH when I moved to Auckland in 2009. I had been involved in community works in Hamilton before moving up, and saw it as a good way to meet friends outside of the bars, as well as giving back doing something I enjoyed. Over the years, I’ve moved from being a volunteer, to being on the Governance Board, and now as the Executive Director.
Day to day is probably a lot like many jobs - emails! Key things I do are building partnerships between RainbowYOUTH and other community service providers, attracting funding, managing our senior staff, and working with the Governance Board.
Rainbow Youth is turning 27 this year! What was society like when the organisation was established?
Being 28 myself, I don’t have first-hand experience! In researching our history for our 25th celebration in 2014, we came across a number of front page articles outraged that an organisation like RainbowYOUTH was receiving funding. Much like today, there were pockets of supportive people, however I think violence and threats against our communities was a lot more publically acceptable back then than it is now. The issue of Transgender and Intersex awareness and rights wasn’t on the table at all, with the whole focus being on gay men and lesbian women.
Fast forward to 2016, how has society since changed, legally, attitudes, and otherwise?
While sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, I think society has moved on a loooong way since 1989. We are now able to talk about the rights and needs of Rainbow (LGBTI) people in public and government forums openly. Even the most ‘right/conservative’ of groups in New Zealand (I think) have a base level of respecting our right to physical safety.
The challenge today is starting to move from the ‘we have the same rights as everyone else in Aotearoa’ message to ‘this is what government and service providers need to do to cater to the unique needs of Rainbow communities’.
Where does Rainbow Youth go from here? What changes are you hoping to see in the next decade?
RainbowYOUTH has an awesome impact and ability to work with young people in the central Auckland area. We have a large impact on government policy around LGBTI Youth, and on how other organisations work to support LGBTI youth.
Our key areas of focus for the next few years is to grow the support available to young people who don’t live in the main urban areas of New Zealand. For example, in 2014 we started the ‘TaurangaPryde’ youth group in Tauranga, the first kind of LGBTI youth support available there, ever. It has had a huge impact in its short two years, and is very well attended.
You’ve just moved to a new premises, from your space on K’Rd to a slightly bigger one just off of K’Rd, on Abbey Street. How are the new digs, and what prompted the move?
Replace ‘slightly bigger’ with ‘massively bigger’! Our new space is over 3 times larger than at 281 K’rd. Our new digs are awesome! We are able to offer more resources and services to young people from our new space.
The move was prompted by needing more space for our staff to work in, to allow them to be effective in a lot of the ‘back office’ stuff that we do. At our peak of 7 staff in 2015, we were only able to physically fit 4 of them in the one ‘office’ that we did have at any one time….
An important aspect I think is the ‘pride’ that young people can take in a space that is 100% dedicated and run to LGBTI youth. This new space is much nicer, has windows, and doesn’t seem like we’re hidden away in a little corner of K’Rd.
What is it about K’Rd that keeps you in the neighbourhood?
K’Rd has been, and I think will continue to be, the focus of much of the Rainbow community in Auckland, and even New Zealand. It is the melting pot where you have RainbowYOUTH next to churches next to strip clubs. A lot of our young people call this area home, and have ready access to it by public transport.
What does Rainbow Youth mean to you?
RainbowYOUTH means a huge amount to me, it provided me with a place to call home when I first moved to Auckland and when I didn’t have close connections to my biological family. I have met the majority of my friends through RainbowYOUTH. It has provided me with a huge number of professional opportunities, training, networking and first-hand experience. It's probably not healthy, but RainbowYOUTH is pretty much my life!