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Thursday 10 November 2016

LGBTI youth changemakers: Bella Simpson

Posted in: Community
By - 3rd June 2016

Bella Simpson is one of the amazing young LGBTI change-makers recently recognised at the Youth Week Awards. We chat to Bella about coming out, working with youth and the big issues facing trans youth today.

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

I came out when I was eleven, but when I say I came out I mean I came out socially. I have never had to come out to my family, because it was more of a journey we all went through. Eight and a half years ago you never really heard about trans people and when you did hear about them it wasn't in a positive light. So when I was learning about what the word transgender it meant I was learning about it with my family.

Coming out at school was one of the most freeing experiences; it's like this big secret was revealed and I felt this weight just drop from me I originally wanted to wait until I was in high school, but if you know me you know I'm super impatient and just didn't want to wait that long. It was also really difficult at the same time because I was so young, even in the LGBTI community at the time. So it has taken a really long time for me to build a group of friends that are my own age and understand me and what I'm going through.

Why did you decide to start working with other LGBTI youth?

This is a really odd question because I was never like oh I might start volunteering in this community. It was more that I really wanted to be around like minded people so I would speaking at events and attend Hui for the social aspect and be asked to speak about myself and my journey.

In the last few years though I have been doing more work trying to make sure that when I do speak things aren't so much focused on me but more the general issues that young LGBTI people are facing. In particular the trans community, I now use whatever opportunity I can to make sure people are aware of the struggles our trans youth are facing. I was fortunate that I had a supportive family and friends around me. So many young trans people have to go through this alone and it isn't easy dealing with medical professionals and schools who aren't supportive and reading bad media headlines, even when you do have support.

Tell me about the work you do.

I'm on the board for InsideOUT and have been volunteering with them for about a year now. I help with a range of projects through InsideOUT, and in the last year have been doing a few different things. At the beginning of the year I was 1 of the 2 youth representatives for the ILGA Oceania conference here in Wellington. We had to work really hard to make sure young people's voices were being heard and the issues that they are facing in their communities were being spoken about on an Oceania platform. I also work really hard to make sure visibility of young trans people is always around, so I will often be at events or conferences saying hey trans youth have issues you should listen to me.

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

One in five young trans people are attempting suicide every year, trans people are unable to access basic healthcare that may help them with their journey, trans people are portrayed in a negative light far too often in media. Worst of all schools are not safe for our young people of diverse gender identities, students don't get an opportunity to learn about different identities, they don't have safe spaces to go to the bathroom, teachers try to say they don't have any gay or trans students at there school (which we all know statistically speaking is a lie), and there are far too many teachers who have no professional development to help support these young people. These are only a few of the really big and important issues.

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

I don't normally have very much spare time outside of working full time and volunteering full time, but I do love listening to Opera and sipping on tea in my fine bone china mugs; such a simple life I lead.

How can the wider LGBTI community better support youth?

The older LGTBI community is always supporting young people. There are always a few who think we are being ungrateful for all the hard work they did 30 years ago, but the reality of the situation is that the young people today are not feeling safe, supported, or respected.

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

I appreciate the nomination and being recognised for the work I do, but at the same time I find it really ironic that I'm winning an award. A lot of trans people struggle to even go to school each day, and yet I am fortunate enough to have the support to not only get up and leave the house but to do things and make things a bit easier for them. I just think that they should get an award as well because it isn't easy having people question you and judge you and your identity everyday.

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- 3rd June 2016