Active Allyship in the Fight for Rainbow Mental Health
By Lizzy Carmine (she/her), illustrated by Yi Jong (she/her)
On September 8th, submissions closed for New Zealanders to share their thoughts about the Conversion Therapy bill. In the lead up to the deadline, the rainbow communities rallied together on social media to encourage New Zealanders to make a submission in favour of banning the homophobic practice. Some churches made submissions against protecting the rainbow community, as a consequence of misinterpreting the bill. They feared it would impeach upon prayer and free speech, resulting in dangerous misinformation from influential higher ups.
The rainbow community having to advocate for themselves is “disheartening and dehumanising” says Josh (they/them), a volunteer and workshop facilitator for InsideOUT and a fierce online advocate for rainbow progression. The LGBTQIA+ community
having to fight for their rights, and witness members of their community struggle is “emotionally taxing” and cisgender heterosexual people who lack engagement with the community don’t recognise this, says Josh. In a post on Instagram, Josh writes “as an ally to the community I need you to know how emotionally draining and shameful it feels to be writing in defence
of your community’s right to exist freely without discrimination or conversion tactics.”
Josh says “homophobia is a heterosexual problem, transphobia is a cis problem. These problems are not issues that we have, they are issues that we need cisgender/heterosexual people to stand up, acknowledge, and help us to combat homophobia.
The issue is caused by heterosexual cisgender people who are not engaging with and in queer environments, and are willfully unaware, or at times very aware, of negative messages or beliefs they may be perpetuating because of this.”
I first met Josh years ago at a dance camp in Blenheim and upon Josh’s move to Auckland our friendship blossomed. Today, Josh is self-assured as a non-binary member of the queer community but this hasn’t always been the case.
Growing up in a small, isolated town where cisgender heterosexual identity was the norm, homophobia and misogyny ran rampant. Without accessible information about sexuality and gender, and no vibrant queer communities in sight, Josh was alone in dealing with understanding their sexual identity at just 12 years old. “I didn’t know anything about sexuality and gender identities in the early stages of my life. There was no mention of anything to do with the queer communities. So, I never had an opportunity to explore or understand what was going on”, said Josh.
Josh experienced homophobia before they had the opportunity to come out. Josh says “at the time if you were a boy and you danced you were instantly associated with being gay.” This created a level of unsafety for Josh to be authentically themselves and trained Josh into suppressing their sexuality, which resulted in years of dealing with internalised homophobia without even realising it. “I was living in this state of hypervigilance, constantly checking myself since I was 12 and that was all my brain knew how to do in social situations.
Rainbow Youth explains internalised homophobia as negative thoughts about homosexuality that is learnt from societal values. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are exposed to negative ideas about being attracted to the same sex through socialised behaviours they see in the heterosexual community. “This can lead to feelings of self-disgust and self-hatred. These feelings can lead to internalised homophobia also known as internalised oppression.”
Internalised homophobia prevented Josh from finding safety in a community of people with shared experiences, and caused depression and anxiety surrounding being closeted during high school. Josh came out once they moved to Auckland at 18, but avoided fully immersing themselves in the queer community out of fear of being “one of those gays”, says Josh.
“I had drummed these ideas into my head for so long about how bad it was to be an openly queer person. I didn’t feel any sort of empowerment about being gay because I was so stuck with this internalised homophobia which at the time, I knew nothing about.”
The catalyst of Josh coming to terms with their internalised homophobia and gender identity came when Josh moved to Wellington. The visibility and representation of the celebrated and vibrant queer community was a mind-blowing sight for Josh. “Witnessing genderqueer, trans, and non-binary people expressing themselves however they want so loudly and people celebrating it to me was absolutely terrifying because I was scared of being associated with that community.”
Active allyship helps create a sense of safety for marginalised people to authentically be themselves. The workplace can be a particularly heterosexual environment for many of the rainbow community to navigate, and the shared experience of being straight passing at work to avoid discrimination is common.
Josh says their previous workplace in Wellington was “the most cis heterosexual workplace environment” they’d ever worked in and for Josh, it felt like they were forced to live a double life. Seeing the queer community around them but spending the majority of their days with people who were so far removed from queer experiences made Josh spiral into social anxiety caused by an identity crisis. It was in this environment where Josh’s internalised homophobia was in full force and taking a toll on their mental health.
Josh quit their job, reached out to InsideOUT and went back to university. Over those eight months, Josh unpacked their life through therapy and understood their positionality within the queer community compared to others. Josh’s newfound community with InsideOUT intertwined with the diversity of students in Josh’s university lectures gave Josh the confidence and security to understand they were non-binary and at the end of last year changed their pronouns to they/them.
Josh now serves to empower rainbow rangatahi at InsideOUT, and volunteers their time in facilitating workshops that provide support and a sense of community. These workshops focus on workplace rainbow inclusion for large businesses and government agencies in Wellington. They ensure youth will have safe and inclusive workplaces waiting for them when they finish school.
“It was a full-circle moment, moving to Wellington, seeing these people I was terrified of but also inspired by at the same time and then right now having become that exact person and holding onto being the person I needed when I was younger that didn’t exist for me in that town.”
“Allies endure moments of discomfort when speaking out to protect marginalised communities, whereas for the marginalised that discomfort is daily”, says Josh.
Seeing cis and hetero people speaking out and activating their allyship through supporting legislation that protects the rainbow communities eases the mental and emotional toll of living in heteronormative spaces.
"Being an ally can be upsetting. It might make you angry at the world and how fucked up it is, but it is crucial to know and understand that your discomforting experience is not even close to the queer community’s, who are actively experiencing it and doing this work their entire lives to combat discrimination. Being an ally is really empowering in itself and it’s also self-serving, it makes you feel really good!”, says Josh.
Seeing cis and hetero people speaking out and activating their allyship through supporting legislation that protects the rainbow communities eases the mental and emotional toll of living in heteronormative spaces. Allyship is about protecting people in the LGBTQIA+ community, no matter what stage of life they are in.