Two students helping create a culture shift at Tauranga Boys' College say raising the pride flag on school grounds for the first time means "any student can look up to the sky and see support".
Year 13 students Mackenzie Fowler and Neil Buchanan formed the Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) last year after noticing a "lacking sense of community" for LGBTQIA+ students at the school.
And last week the pair had their "big moment", hosting a range of events as part of the school's pride week celebrations - which included raising the pride flag for the first time ever at the school on Monday.
This comes as a hub for Tauranga's rainbow community was destroyed by a "suspicious" fire earlier this month. The Historic Village building was shared by Gender Dynamix and Rainbow Youth.
The QSA started with about 10 members and this had since grown to about 35. Students from all year levels were regularly attending the weekly meet-ups.
"We had done four years at the college, and we felt it was probably time. Four years of not necessarily feeling a huge sense of community. Obviously, we have our close friends, but sometimes it is good to feel as though you are connected as part of a culture," Fowler said.
Buchanan said the QSA was a safe, accepting space for all students.
"We form a sense of community for any student to feel safe. It can be daunting in the school environment with bullying and harassment. People can feel safe being who they are here," he said.
"Everyone in this community has experienced some form of division or discrimination at the school - it's just everyday colloquial stuff that happens. A sense of community is the most important thing to us," Fowler said.
A short film screening and having Labour list MP Tāmati Coffey as a guest speaker were just some of the other pride celebrations organised by the QSA last week.
A classroom was packed out for Coffey's talk. More than 50 students attended to hear the Bay politician speak about his own journey and changes made since The Homosexual Law Reform Act was introduced in 1985.
"This is our big moment. In a way it is our last hurrah as Year 13s to get some action," Fowler said.
While the official School's Pride Week commenced on June 13, Tauranga Boys' College had to delay the festivities by a week because of senior assessments.
Coffey also joined the students as the pride flag was raised at the school, something he described as a "momentous occasion" in a Facebook live stream.
Both students agreed it showed "physical and visible" support from the college.
"For us it is super awesome to see visible support from the college and any student can look up to the sky and see the support - and know they are not alone no matter how they identify," Fowler said.
The school had created hundreds of pride pins with the school's crest - The Discobolus of Myron - that could be worn by students and teachers to show support.
He said while the recent fire had taken a toll on QSA members, it was "motivation to continue what we are doing".
"We have to use it as power to keep going forward."
Principal Robert Mangan described the two students as "brave and courageous", saying they had been awesome leaders in terms of creating "a shift in culture at the college".
"I feel really fortunate to have these young men leading. It is important that every boy feels safe and supported within their community.
"The last week has done a lot to ensure that those who are feeling unsafe, actually feel 'okay well I am accepted here'. As well as trying to raise the maturity level of some of the more immature students."
He said it all came down to respecting others and "acceptance of diversity" in the wider school community.
"We are trying to remove ignorance and fear, and grow education so all of our students accept diversity in whatever form it may be."
This had been a focus in school assemblies recently. Fowler and Buchanan addressed the student body two weeks ago, calling out the use of harmful language at school.
"It was a big shock for the students to see openly queer students from the school talk to them about how it makes us feel. Language to do with us is used in negative ways all the time - everyone can hear it," Buchanan said.
Fowler felt students were receptive to the talk, which was all about encouraging people to follow the school's respect code.
"It's been a year of progress. It feels like we have drastically changed the landscape of student culture at the school. In our classrooms we have noticed it, walking round we have noticed it."