Rainbow Youth's mum Linda Farr retires
By Matt Akersten
11th October 2007 - 09:36 pm
Nine years volunteering at Rainbow Youth - that's a huge number of Linda Farr's trademark bubbly chats and supportive hugs. Now, after almost a decade as one of the organisation's adult advisers (and its honorary mother), she says it's time to step back - at least for now.
Married and with four adult children, Farr says she got involved with LGBT youth support because her daughter came out as a lesbian. But even before that, she had worked for many years at the Burnett Centre, organising fundraising events like the Walk for Life to raise money for the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"I crept over to Rainbow Youth because someone approached me," she explains. "My husband and I have been very supportive of all our children, but I know how difficult it can be for some of these young people coming to terms with their same-sex attraction or gender identity."
Farr says the neat thing about helping out at Rainbow Youth is seeing the young people come in thinking they don't have any skills, and then seeing them flourish beyond belief. "And I think as much as I've been able to contribute, I've learnt off them too… and made lots of fabulous friends through the years."
The Auckland-based social support network has come a long way during Farr's time. In its early days she likened it to a friendly little club, but she now points out it has become a professional and respected organisation. "Over the years we achieved a lot - we've now got two full-time employees and good premises. The Rainbow Youth name is out there a lot more now, especially within the schools. I feel good about it. Word's been spread."
Rainbow Youth has always been managed by an Executive Board of young LGBT people, so the service remains 'by youth and for youth'. The role of the Adult Advisors - and there are three now - is to be ready with any advice or support they may need. It's particularly vital in frequent times of transition. After their Annual General Meeting each year, there are always several fresh new faces keen to make their mark, but with money tight and successful funding applications vital, small mistakes could have disastrous consequences.
"It's such a volatile and unstable sort of organisation, with relying on funding coming through and that uncertainty. Always trying to build it up, but it's still such a six-month to six-month thing. It's on a precipice the whole time really," Farr says.
"It's been a battle for the last nine years. It hasn't been easy, but it's been worth it."
Going way above and beyond the call of duty, each year Farr calls her many showbiz contacts (who almost always give their time and talents free of charge) and organises a fundraising - and attention-getting - Rainbow Youth variety concert, which always nets thousands of extra dollars for the organisation's activities.
She also looks after Rainbow Youth's parents group - "because parents of gay young people have a coming out process to go through also." Helping other straight parents to accept and cherish their LGBT children is something Farr finds immensely rewarding, and relatively easy: "You can do it over the phone most of the time," she confides, "and I've said I'm quite happy to still do that. So if parents need any support, they can still call me."
As for taking a break from the rest of her Rainbow Youth activities, she says she just needs a little 'time out' with her family now.
"I've had a particularly busy year. And I think, I'm not going to do justice to anything if I try to spread myself too thin," she explains.
"It's been my life. And it's been a huge and hard thing to say 'no' to doing more… to stop now. But I need to concentrate on home life and getting myself together."
Farr says she's making way for new people to come into Rainbow Youth with a different perspective - and she's glad to hear that two new Adult Advisors have recently been found.
"I know things will keep going and that the community will continue to support them," she asserts. "It's vital. Lately it's gotten better for our young people, but you can't guarantee that it's going to be like that forever. You can never become too complacent about where we're at now as far as homophobia is concerned. And I know that if you take that strong LGBT visibility out of schools, things could turn ugly very quickly. That was always a concern to me.
"I watched that Takataapui programme recently with the activist Marilyn Waring in it - she said 'you can never say never or give up the fight'. We have to keep on being vigilant and keep doing all the things we have been doing."
Farr's taking well-earned breather from Rainbow Youth at the moment… but as for the future, she repeats: "Never say never!"
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