A charity set up to support and advocate for the country's LGBTI+ youth community has expanded its service in Northland.
RainbowYouth, a charity established in 1989 to provide support, information and advocacy for intersex, queer and gender-diverse youth and to foster safe, inclusive, accepting and diverse family environments that are drug-, smoke- and alcohol-free, has expanded its services in the region with the support of the Northland Community Foundation.
"We know that in Northland there are many rangatahi takatapui in need of support," Ally Wilson of RainbowYouth said.
"In May 2019 our support manager and executive director travelled around Northland, meeting with many services and young people about the needs and experiences of rainbow communities in the region, and the need for support came through loud and clear from youth who felt isolated and unable to be themselves.
"Our goal is to uplift and empower LGBTI+ youth across Tai Tokerau, along with their friends, whanau and wider communities."
A long-running peer support group in Whangārei was very well attended, and in 2019 a DHB contract was secured to provide peer support to trans and gender-diverse communities in Auckland and Northland, the first of its kind in the country.
Sydney Heremaia was employed as the first permanent part-time Northland staff member, and a second group sprang up to cater specifically to the community.
Thanks to the support of the Northland Community Foundation's Grassroots Fund, Heremaia had now been offered more hours to expand his work as the Tai Tokerau regional co-ordinator.
"This role is vital in ensuring that our services in Northland go from strength to strength," Wilson said.
"Sydney provides mentoring and peer support to rainbow young people in the region and a point of contact for existing peer support groups, as well as for young people who wish to start new ones.
"The role is also vital for building up local referral pathways for young people who seek out support, and provides visibility and community for rainbow people in Northland by liaising with schools, social services, medical clinics, marae and youth spaces.
"In the few months since its establishment, Sydney has connected with several services and schools across the region, and made huge inroads. With the continued support of the Northland Community Foundation we see a bright future for rainbow young people in Tai Tokerau, including new groups in smaller towns, ensuring that rangatahi can access peer or one-on-one support wherever they may live."