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Thursday 10 November 2016

LGBTI youth changemakers: Whiti Timutimu

Posted in: Community
By - 8th June 2016

Whiti Timutimu helped LGBTI youth in Gisborne to start the Qmunity Youth Group who were recently recognised with a Youth Week Award. We chat to Whiti about the big issues facing LGBTI youth today and the work she does with youth on both ends of the spectrum.

Minister Nikki Kaye and Qmunity Youth Gisborne- Matthew Te Whata Mc Clutchie, Darcy Spraggs, Charly Walsh, Daniel Henry, Hunaara Papuni, Teresa Wells
Qmunity Youth Group Gisborne is made up of young high school students who aim to bring awareness to the wider community of the challenges of wanting to be accepted and understood by whānau, dealing with depression and anxiety of being outcast and labelled as different, dealing with the effects of cyber bullying and suicidal tendencies because they don't feel as though they can be who they are.

When did you come out and what was that like for you?

I came out when I was 24, it had taken me all my teenage years to work up the courage to tell my whānau that I was takataapui or lesbian. This wasn’t a surprise to them and embraced my new journey and said that they loved me regardless of who I decided I wanted to be with. This was really reassuring for me as a young adult.

Tell me about the work you do with youth.

I work with youth at all ends of the spectrum some of it is at the sharp end with youth offenders but the majority of it is at the preventative end.

I’ve run the ATAWHAI Youth Mentoring programme since 2013. This came about through a plea for help for one of the school principals who had large numbers of students on the verge of being excluded due to drug and alcohol issues, behavioural issues, truancy, gang affiliation, and the list goes on.
This was an opportunity for the community to drive positive change and has been driven by passionate community volunteers from the NZ Army, NZ Navy, NZ Police, NZ Fire Service, maori wardens and youth leaders. This is a very unique programme that focusses on a holistic approach that focusses on supporting the whole whānau.

The Qmunity Youth Group is very unique as this has been set up by youth for youth. They are a very dynamic bunch who are very passionate about making Tairawhiti a diverse community by educating and promoting LGBTI.

Why did you decide to start working with LGBTI youth?

Our LGBTI youth decided that they needed support and got in touch with my wife Kristin and I. This is how we started our Qmunity Youth group in Gisborne. It’s amazing how the ‘kumara vine’ works but really reassuring that our youth have a safe space to meet regularly.

What do you see as the biggest issues facing LGBTI youth today?

One of the major differences with youth today is social media and cyber bullying. The generation of today live on their devices and this sometimes gives them a chance to outlet their opinions negatively. They’ve lost ‘whanaungatanga’ relationship building and would prefer to have conversations with their friends online rather than face to face.

Our LGBTI youth have lot’s to deal with and negativity on social media adds to the many challenges which increases their stress levels and they sometimes become suicidal.

What do you do outside of your work with LGBTI youth?

I work for the New Zealand Police in the Māori Pacific Ethnic Services office at National Police Headquarters. I’m on secondment into an iwi organisation called Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou.

My work focusses on prevention and early intervention. I’ve been on this secondment since 2012 and the work I do supports the ‘Turning of the Tide Strategy and Prevention First Strategy.

How can the wider LGBTI community better support youth?

We’d love to have more of the LGBTI community come in as mentors or guest speakers. We’ve all been through what our youth are going through now and when they hear our journeys this is really reassuring for them.

What did it mean to you to be recognised with a Youth Week Award?

Being recognised at the Youth Awards is pay back for all the hours you and others put in to support our youth. It’s pay back to our whānau as well as we do use some of our whānau time to do this work and without their support we wouldn’t be able do it.

One of our leaders from Ngati Porou Doctor Apirana Mahuika gave me this proverb ‘do not walk where the pathway may lead, go where there is no path and leave a trail’. Our Qmunity Youth are leaving trails for other LGBTI youth to follow around Aotearoa which will lead to more diverse and supportive communities.

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- 8th June 2016