29 Mar 2017

Māori whānau get new advice for supporting LGBTQI kids

8:56 am on 29 March 2017

Māori whānau raising gay or gender diverse children have a new resource to help them talk to young people who come out.

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere at Victoria University marae.

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere at Victoria University marae. Photo: RNZ / Leigh Marama McLachlan

The booklet 'Growing up Takatapui: Whānau Journeys', written by Elizabeth Kerekere, explains te reo Māori word Takatāpui, which many Māori use to identify themselves and their diverse sexuality and genders.

It features stories from many takatāpui, including Cameron Kapua-Morrell, who is gay and grew up in Gisborne.

Suicide rates are highest for Māori, young people, LGBTQI and those living in poor areas, so the odds for a smooth childhood seemed stacked against Mr Kapua-Morrell.

"It was hard out there because we lived in a real low socio-economic area. You know everybody was just about the money, the drugs, gangs. Coming out in that sort of environment isn't really the greatest idea. Everybody is against you from the get go.

"I got bullied all the way growing up so you sort of had to harden yourself up so you didn't get emotionally affected every single time."

The 20 year old kept his sexuality quiet right up until a few years ago, when he moved to Wellington.

He said coming out to his parents was his hardest move.

"There growing up, there was no gay people. Or if there were gay people, they were to be sworn at or bullied or picked on because that was the way back then."

"I called my mum, told her over the phone, she started laughing because she didn't know how to respond."

Cameron Kapua-Morrell at Orongomai Marae in Upper Hutt.

Cameron Kapua-Morrell at Orongomai Marae in Upper Hutt. Photo: RNZ / Leigh Marama McLachlan

He said his father's reaction was simply replying 'no comment'.

"That was emotional. That was hard," he said.

Dr Kerekere also chairs the Tīwhanawhana Trust, which is a takatāpui community group based in Wellington.

She has already published a resource on takatāpui but felt more information and help was needed for parents and whānau.

Dr Kerekere said many parents struggle with the news - some go into denial and some fear for their children's safety.

"Even where whānau are really supportive and they love their rangatahi and they accept them for who they are, it is still hard.

"There is still those feelings of denial. Because you have children and you kind of plan a life for them. You think about what they are going to do when they grow up and then when things change, you have to shift this whole story."

Her new booklet also shares the story of 27-year-old Kassie Hartendorp.

She said her whanau accepted who she was now but it was not always that way.

"At first they thought it was a phase. For a really long time," she laughs.

"They have gotten to a point where they accept me for who I am - they have accepted the partners that I have had. But it is more, we accept your right to be who you are, we do not necessarily agree with it all of the time."

Kassie Hartendorp at Evolve Youth Centre in Wellington.

Kassie Hartendorp at Evolve Youth Centre in Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Leigh Marama McLachlan

Growing up, Ms Hartendorp felt isolated and self-harmed.

But today she embraces who she is and works for the Evolve Youth Centre in Wellington mentoring takatāpui.

"The young people that I see, the majority of them, have had break downs with their family. They feel like there is no one there who really understands them or supports them around their journey with their sexuality and gender and they come to me because there is no one in their family who they can talk to."

Ms Hartendorp said takatāpui who had whānau support were much better off than those who did not.

Had a resource like the new booklet been available when she was younger, she said it may have made her life a easier.

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