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Monday 08 November 2010

Hopelessly out of step?

Posted in: Community
By Jacqui Stanford - 22nd September 2010


You can't help but wonder whether the people educating our kids are stuck in some tired, dusty old Fox Trot routine, remaining ridiculously out of step with their own students when it comes to school balls.

You don't have to look far (visit Rainbow Youth for five minutes) to see that young people are increasingly finding empowerment to come out at much younger ages than in the past. It's actually amazing to see the number of 14, 15, and 16 year olds who are walking their school corridors proudly gay, starting support groups, or holding hands in the street with their boy/girlfriend.

It's a long way from the societies and schools most of us grew up in, where being gay was seen as something abnormal, something to spit upon, something to attack.

Things have changed. Gay is "the new black", apparently.

But of course, coming out is a different experience for everyone and for most people that initial process of figuring out who you are, especially at a young age, is far from easy. And then there are the youths in our schools facing the intimidating realisation that the gender they have on their birth certificate doesn't sync with who they feel like inside, at all. What do they wear to the ball?! What are they allowed to wear to the ball?!

While society overall may be more accepting, for young GLBT people there is always that biting internal battle with self-acceptance, which any suggestion you're abnormal can only sharpen, especially in the pressure-cooker school environment.

Katija Vlatkovich
That's why many people, like Rainbow Youth board member Katija Vlatkovich, find it so hard to see why schools seem to be making that journey even more difficult, when it comes down to things as simple as school balls.

"You'd be surprised how much it goes on," she sighs. "It varies from school to school. Some have forms you have to sign saying that you are queer. Others will discriminate in terms of gender stereotypes, where if you're a girl and you want to wear a suit, that isn't allowed to happen at some places."

Vlatkovich points out that some teenagers who just aren't ready to take a partner to the school ball and want to go with their friends, even face pressure to go in a coupling.

Then there are of course the schools which are in so much denial or fear they have a no-go policy on same-sex couples altogether.

All these reasons combined are why Rainbow Youth runs its own Alternative Ball, allowing youth to come along and be who they are, with or without the partner they choose, wearing whatever they like.

Vlatkovich, a TV production manager and event promoter who runs alternative Auckland women's night Proud Mary, is leading the team of volunteers organising the event.

Now in her 20s, she recalls going to school balls with gay friends and not challenging the rules because she didn't even realise that was an option. Things are slowly changing and students are challenging the rules, but she feels there is still quite a long way to go.

The issue of having to sign a form to say that you are gay when you want to bring a same-sex date is something which hits a particular nerve with Vlatkovich. She finds it impossible to understand. "It completely blows my mind. Would you have someone walk into a gay environment and sign a form saying they're straight? It just makes no sense."

She says it's completely illogical and clearly violates human rights. "It's insane. Why should you have to declare your sexuality in order to go to a function that is entitled to all students?"

"So this is pretty much why we are doing this and trying to challenge this, because it's all just ridiculous. If someone can give me a valid reason why should sign a form because you're queer . . . if you can give me a good explanation I'd like to hear it. But so far I've not heard one at all."

Rainbow Youth's education coordinator Priscilla Penniket has been working hard in schools and Vlatkovich says she really is making progress. "In a sense that now a lot of schools are letting queer education in as part of their health curriculum. So we're making headway in that regard, but still, there are other schools where it's a long way away yet."

Vlatkovich says some parents complain that they don't want their children exposed to sexuality and 'options' out there, not realising it's really just about education, pointing out that even if their children are not gay, they can help friends and peers who are.

"To be at high school and to come out is a huge thing," she says. "These kids, they've obviously got some very strong character to have done it at that age. Why should they not have something and be able to celebrate?"

"That's why we have to do it - because these students deserve a ball as much as anyone else."

The Alternative Ball, 'Be who you are and look great doing it' will be held at the Galatos on 9 October. The notably queer-friendly Auckland venue is behind K' Rd, just a hop skip and a jump from the Rainbow Youth drop-in centre.

The theme is masquerade, with the line-up of performers so far including Bonnie and the Oosh, Karma Chaos, The Vixens, Kendra Tequila Dream and Will C Barling, with more to be announced.

Anyone who is interested in performing or volunteering can get in touch with Katija Vlatkovich bydropping her an email

She says the ball is about having fun. "You can bring a partner, you can come by yourself, if you want to come with a group of friends you can. It's all about having an environment where you can feel comfortable and safe with who you feel you are and have no judgement or no prejudice against you through the night. Because that's how it should be – you should be able to feel proud of who you are in an environment with your peers."

Vlatkovich says attendees can forget about gender stereotypes as anything goes. "Come as you are and how you feel comfortable and how you want everyone else to see you in the world. That's pretty much our mantra on this one."

The event is ALL AGES are tickets are $15,, Rainbow Youth and Kamo Bar.

This event runs from 7pm till midnight, with a no alcohol, drug or smoking policy. Light snacks will be provided.

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Jacqui Stanford - 22nd September 2010