Creating Rainbow Inclusive Schools
For Petazae Thoms, the Pink Shirt Day kaupapa is all about providing rainbow rangatahi/young people with a sense of safety and belonging. As InsideOUT’s Auckland Schools Co-ordinator, his job is to empower students and staff with the tools and confidence to do just this.
“A school might approach me about how to navigate pronouns – so, it can be as simple as – ‘this is some new language to us, we’re not quite sure how to approach this, can you come in and help this all feel a little less abstract’, or, it can be helping with something as serious as a young person who’s not going to school because of the bullying and harassment they’re facing.
“The common theme is education – I’m simply someone with lived experience and awareness to help them navigate something that feels strange or scary.”
A key part of Petazae’s role is running Creating Rainbow Inclusive Schools workshops. Funded by Pink Shirt Day, the workshops have been running throughout the year across Aotearoa to upskill students, staff and whānau to respond to rainbow specific bullying in their schools and communities.
“A lot of the time bullying can be daunting to deal with, and it can occur all around us in really subtle ways. The workshops focus not only highlighting these issues – but on giving people the tools and skills to respond to bullying when they notice it happening around them.”
Though it can be confronting to acknowledge bullying behaviours, Petazae says the benefits of the workshops can be life changing for rainbow students.
“If something isn’t in your norm or what you’re used to, it can feel scary or unnerving to invite someone in who’s going to unpack all these conversations. But what we’re seeing when we come into schools is that, academically, young people are able to do so much better at school when they feel like they have a sense of belonging. We’re also seeing their overall wellbeing improve, and above all – our young people deserve to feel safe at school.”
Petazae says the workshops have been extremely well received so far. Participants - both students and teachers – are having some crucial kōrero, and rainbow rangatahi are coming away feeling heard.
“Staff and students have very different experiences when they come to school. By bringing them together in a safe space, we can have some really important conversations. There’s lots of love in this space, and lots of people who feel determined and a sense of responsibility to make a safer place for the young people around us, and each other as well.”
When it comes to Pink Shirt Day on October 16, Petazae wants to encourage schools to see the day as an opportunity to acknowledge certain behaviours that might be contributing to bullying, and to think about how we can make our schools safer and more inclusive for rainbow rangatahi.
“It’s important to remember why Pink Shirt Day started – in specific response to homophobic bullying. This can be a really great conversation-starter for schools who are feeling a bit nervous about having this kōrero: if you’re celebrating Pink Shirt Day, you can very easily talk about how came to exist in the first place.
“Some people might say – why do we need a day to talk about bullying? We should be talking about bullying every day! And I encourage people to talk about it every day, absolutely. But I think having a physical date in the calendar says, right, we’re going to put this time aside and actually celebrate and show up really loud, and we’re going to have these conversations. And hopefully that momentum continues all the way until the next Pink Shirt Day.”