The CTU Out@Work Conference was an opportunity to share the work of the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce as well as develop dialogue and network with other unions to hear about their work around sexuality and gender.
The keynote on the second day was delivered by Jack Byrne, a trans* activist. He made a range of points across his story filled presentation. Some of his key points were summarised by his tips. Firstly, the tips others have taught him:
- Know your own struggle first
- Look for groups that share a commitment to human rights
- Listen to local community priorities and then identify what you can offer in support
- How does your work empower those you are supporting?
- Bring others with you
- Be willing and eager to learn from emerging movements
Things to avoid:
- Assume that activists in another country want or need your support
- Making promises
- Assume the needs and wants of another country
Things we can do from NZ:
- Stand up from international human rights standards on Sexual Orientation Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGISC).
- Sign on to NGO petitions and encourage general human rights groups to do this too e.g. the independent expert on SOGI is still under threat
- Use UPR, CEDAW ILO and other reports to highlight SOGISC issues
- To be honest about what we do well and share what we have learnt
- Know where we lag behind and learn from others
- Provide opportunities for activists and from other regions to share their knowledge and experiences
Some key points that have stayed with me – and that may have challenged the room -included the idea of being stuck in our own bubble. I think this was a striking point to make in a Union room. Like Karen Meluish’s uLearn keynote, the idea of the echo chamber does not helping us to move forward. Secondary, he made a strong argument for the need to link community research and community research together. Some of this research he showed us, and exploring these links is a big next step for me.
Another session titled ‘Pride, Politics and Power –lessons and legacy‘ involved a panel of speakers talking about their experiences in activism. Huia Welton spoke beautifully about the impact of language and how we can harness the power of words as a community. Her example was the Marriage Equality journey. The tenor of that campaign it was framed as about human rights and equal rights. Then there was a shift in language from rights to love. The argument put forward was everyone is created equal and everyone should be able to marry the person they love. Of course the campaign was more complex that this, but the shift in language made a big difference. It is harder to argue against love, than it is to argue against rights.
This teaches us about emotion, and teaches us about the importance of aspiration. In campaigns like this we articulate how life can be better and we speak to the values of society. We are much more able to take people on a journey of change by appealing to these values.
Finally, Kirsty and I delivered a workshop on the work of the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce titled ‘Changing Workplace Cultures’. We argued the work we do in schools is vital for a future focused attitude towards the next generation of workplaces. Some of the takeaways included:
- Language in the presentation needs to be updated: sex characteristics is a better was of talking about intersex identities.
- When discussing the need for a collected movement, gender expression is a commonality across the LGBTIQ+ spectrum and can help to bring people together.
- The PPTA is leading the way in terms of queer activism in workplaces. Our workshops and presence was a strong support to others who are making headway in their own unions and workplaces.
- The connection made with NZEI was important as the combined force of our unions can make a real difference to the shape of NZ schools. For NZEI to not have formal rainbow representation is an outrage, but this is slowly changing as leaders in this area are emerging.
- Their remains a tension between the work of a union and the greater good of queer activism.
In conclusion, the conference offered an opportunity to navigate my discomfort with the union movement, by realising the importance of the voices we have the opportunities that the collective has created.