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Sunday 11 October 2015

Meet: RainbowYOUTH's Morgan Butler

Posted in: Community
By Jacqui Stanford - 5th August 2015

Morgan Butler had an upbringing which offers a unique perspective on culture, family, religion and acceptance, something which is helping the passionate youth worker relate to a wide range of queer and trans youth in the role as RainbowYOUTH’s Support Coordinator.

Morgan Butler is RainbowYOUTH's Support Coordinator

Butler may, as they put it, “look white”, but identifies as Māori - being raised in Hamilton by a single mum, who was whangai’d by a Māori family. “So I grew up with that family for my whole life,” Butler explains.

“Some people get a bit shocked. They’re like ‘what, but you’re white’.”  They have a joke in the whanau that while the rest of the cousins were born in the sun, Butler and a brother were born in the shade. “Where my family are from, Tongariro is our mountain, so our Nan and Koro they used to call me and my brother the snow on top of the mountain.”

The youngster would often spend time living and staying with grandparents in Turangi, in a very family-orientated upbringing. “I have 28 first cousins in my Maori family. And I am very close with all of them.”

Butler just feels very, very lucky. “I am close with my family. I know my whakapapa and where I come from and who I come from, which is really amazing.”

Questions do arise, but when people met the family, they understand. "I've been taught a lot of Maori values and morals - they come to me naturally and it feels strange when people associate me with a pakeha culture when they see my skin colour - I'm so not about it!"

Butler does have some Tainui blood from their mother’s great-grandmother - with grandparents who are Ngati Tuwharetoa and Nga Puhi. “So I hold a lot of ancestry, a lot of history, with how I walk in the world.”

At 13, coming out happened. Well, it was more like Butler’s mum read cell phone messages and ‘found out’. “There was a very not-PG text on it … So she wasn’t very happy. But I’m really lucky that in the family I grew up with, there are a few queer people too. So by the time I came along my Nan was just like ‘aw yeah sweet as’.”

Buter also has an insight into the contentious relationship between religion and sexuality, being brought up mormon from birth until 14.

It was around this age Butler became involved with Waikato Queer Youth (WaQuY), as a volunteer. Upon moving to Auckland at age 17, RainbowYOUTH called, and ultimately the role of Support Coordinator came up.

“I think I just stuck around for too long and they thought ‘well we might as well pay ya’!”

Butler actually wanted to be a mechanic, but hated it, and instead has just finished a diploma in Youth Work. The role at RainbowYOUTH, looking after all the groups and interns, and providing direct support to young people who get in touch, is much loved.

Seeing young people flourish is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. “Having someone who was in my group three or four years ago now becoming a facilitator or maybe applying for the board. That sort of stuff. Or if a young person comes in and says ‘I need help’ and a couple of months later they’ll come in and be like ‘yeah, me and my partner have been together for two weeks’ and ‘I took my mum to a group’ and ‘my dad’s ok with it’. I love that. Seeing them shine after being so nervous their first time.”

Not everyone has amazing families though. Some young people still hide that they visit RainbowYOUTH, but feel at home there. “I tell them ‘yes, this is your whanau, these are your people!’.”

Butler also loves being an educator. Speaking at schools can be challenging, but there are always those students who get a sparkle in their eye and Butler knows the organisation’s important messages have hit home to those who most need them.

“It’s like ‘yes, it’s ok, you’re going to be ok’ – them seeing educators who are adults and queer and happy and successful gives them a little bit of hope, I think. Some come up and say ‘I am gay, but I can’t come out to my parents, but thanks so much for coming’. It’s those little moments.”

The Support Coordinator role is the first official one in RainbowYOUTH history. It came about due to the need to have a person who works with the increasing number of young people who contact the organisation for support. With Butler’s role, they have someone whose specific job is to help them source extra support.

"I encourage anyone who is needing support to get in touch with me at RainbowYOUTH:" Butler says.

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Jacqui Stanford - 5th August 2015