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Thursday 10 November 2016

GLBTI lives: Hahna Briggs

Posted in: Community
By Daily News staff - 18th January 2016

For Queer Support Coordinator at Otago University, Hahna Briggs, coming out and giving back to the community has been a journey that has brought with it clarity and a passion to make change.

“I was quite shy as a young person and preferred to fit in,” says Hahna. “I grew up in a Catholic school system - so as you can imagine being cis-gender, in addition to heterosexual, monogamous and celibate relationships were the only thing that our families and educators talked about and encouraged.”

“When anything outside of this was mentioned it was usually very negative. In school, boys were bullied for being seen as too 'feminine' or perceived as being 'gay (I say perceived because no one was 'out' at school) and girls were bullied if they were perceived to have any kind of sexuality.”

“Because of the social climate I grew up in and being someone that liked to fit in, I never stopped to consider that I might not be straight. There was no other option for me.”

Hahna says it was at university that she started to meet a diverse range of people and felt like she was in a more inclusive environment.

“I remember a women in my class, who I'm still friends with today, told us she was a Lesbian. I remember asking her stupid questions like 'how do lesbians have sex?", so embarrassing to think about. I questioned my sexuality for about five minutes before freaking out and deciding that I was 'definitely' straight.”

Negotiating life after university was difficult at times, despite finding a great job after graduating, Hahna says she fairly quickly found herself her an abusive relationship. “After four and a half years my family were able to help me get out of that relationship.

“By the time I got out I was physically, emotionally and spiritually shattered! Through therapy, taking up dancing again and establishing new goals I began a journey of recovery and it was through this journey that I allowed myself to explore my sexuality and my gender expression for the first time.”

She says the process of coming out began a year later, aged 29. “I identify as a queer woman and I prefer to view my sexuality and gender expression as fluid. After so many years of feeling restricted I want to remain more open to change,” she says.

She says it was when she went back to university to complete her Masters in Dance Studies that she came out and immediately found a support network through UniQ and OUSA Queer Support.

“Being able to access this support was invaluable,” she says. “Especially when family members didn't exactly jump for joy at my revelation, having a support network of understanding people who celebrated diversity gave me resilience and strength.”

It was through this experience that she decided to become a host for a group run by OUSA Queer Support. She also became a committee member on UniQ, which was run as a collective at the time. “I wanted to give back to the community and continue to make friends and build networks. I actually met my partner, Gala, through my involvement in UniQ.”

Hahna believes the broader LGBTI community still needs to address a few key issues including recognising the needs of our Transgender and Intersex community. “Our whole society is based on this idea of binary sex & gender, which means that many of our people in the trans and intersex communities are invisible and excluded from full participation within society.”

“The biggest barriers to acceptance: transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, racism, sexism etc and the continued normalisation of being cis-gender, heterosexual and monogamous.

“We need to acknowledge how the process of colonisation wiped out Māori culture including Māori world views on gender, sexuality and relationships. We need to consult with our Takatāpui about how we can best offer support and make sure our communities are inclusive of our Takatāpui people.

“I'm still learning about all of this big picture stuff and what part I can play in advocating for these societal changes - I'm guessing it's going to be a lifelong process of learning and discovering.”

   Bookmark and Share Daily News staff - 18th January 2016