Saturday, January 9, 2016
While New Zealand has made considerable social progress over the past 100 years we are still a country where affluent white heterosexual males dominate. Our laws may prohibit discrimination related to gender, sexuality, race, culture and income but it takes more than a law to change thinking.
Two stories since the New Year has made me aware just how far we still need go as a society.
The first regarded a Portuguese visitor to our country who was deported back to his home as soon as he arrived here. This man met all requirements as a visitor to our country, he had a return ticket, insurance, money and did not need a special visa. Airport immigration officers refused him entry because they believed he was intending to work here despite a lack of concrete evidence that he was.
Not only was this a humiliating experience for the man and his friends but it exposed possible cultural bias on behalf of immigration officers. I am fairly sure that had he come from the UK, Holland or the US there would have been little problem. I have heard a number of similar stories from people of different cultural backgrounds who have suffered because of a clear bias in our system. A local medical specialist, who happens to be Libyan, discovered that his brother was not allowed to visit him purely because of the country he came from.
In the colonisation of New Zealand we did have a white only policy and although the written policy has changed it seems as if this has really been to accommodate the likes of wealthy Chinese and cheap labour from the Pacific islands and the Philippines. The bias against ordinary people who may not come from the previously preferred nations seems to have continued to some extent.
Mai Chen has been leading a Superdiversity Stocktake and is recommending we embrace diversity to enrich our culture and to energise our economy. After a very successful and high profile legal career Chen still finds that she is treated as a visitor by many European New Zealanders (this is despite the fact that there has been a substantial Chinese community here for well over 100 years).
It seems that the knowledge and skills those from different cultures have are not properly appreciated. Recently the Invercargill City Council sent a team to China to negotiate the purchase of some new Christmas lights and it was never thought advantageous to include a local Chinese person as part of the team.
The other story involves two top former students of Auckland Grammar who had to wait until they had left the school before coming out as gay. Despite their academic excellence and general success (one was the 2012 Dux, the other was the Head Prefect for the same year) both had to hide their natural sexuality and suffered considerable stress because of it.
The school website describes a safe environment for students of different cultural or socio-economic backgrounds but makes no mention of sexual orientation or individual emotional needs. Sadly we have one of the highest youth suicide rates in the OECD and many of those who take their own life are young members of the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) community. Given that around 5-10% of people would identify as LGBTQIA it would mean that up to 251 students would feel challenged and not supported by Auckland Grammar's dominantly heterosexual culture.
I remember discussing a student as part of the senior management team of a local intermediate some years ago. Others of the team were concerned about a male student who openly stated his wish to have a sex change. He was a very popular student whose personalty enabled him to rise above any potential teasing through a great sense of humour and a very likable personality. Most of the senior staff questioned the naturalness of the boy's behaviour and wanted him to receive psychological counseling. I voiced the opinion that the teachers needed counseling more because they couldn't accept that the student concerned was managing his sexual identity extremely positively. I can imagine many schools would still have staff that would hold similar concerns in the same situation.
Henry and Joel have since created a website to support others like themselves but I can't help wondering why in this day and age the school leadership couldn't display greater awareness and compassion.
The world didn't end when we had female Prime Ministers just like it wouldn't end if we had one who was Gay or possibly Iranian at birth. Talent just doesn't come out of white European heterosexual males and by not celebrating and accepting the diversity within our population we are effectively limiting our potential as a nation.