Rainbow pride . . . Members of Skittles (back, from left) Kimberlee McWhirter (14), James Spivey (17), Blayde Forbes (14), Koru Parry (16), Nakita Parish (16), Ebony Heta (16), Noa Smith (16), Sophia Ewing (15), (front, from left) Ruby Cavanagh-Welch (16), Frances Lavell (15), and Mercedes Kennedy (14) have a safe space at the North Otago Youth Centre. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

With few queer adults around to look up to in Oamaru, a group of teenagers are leading by their own example of self acceptance.

The teenagers are part of Skittles, a group of about 20 people who meet at the North Otago Youth Centre once a week.

Youth Centre manager Amanda Acheson said Skittles provided a safe space for young queer people to think about who they were and find others they could identify with.

Established two months ago after rainbow youth organisation InsideOUT held a workshop at the centre, the queer-straight alliance group (QSA) was a place for those identifying as LGBTQIA+ or heterosexual to come together and chat about their gender and/or sexual identities.

James Spivey (17) said it took him a long time to realise he was transgender – a process that was very isolating.

Figuring out who you were was difficult enough as a teenager, without figuring out your gender expression or sexuality, James said.

Mercedes Kennedy (14), who was an ally questioning her identity, echoed this.

“[It allows] us to think about who we are and who we are going to be in the future,” Mercedes said.

Similar QSAs were established at Waitaki Boys’ High School, Waitaki Girls’ High School, and St Kevin’s College, by Skittles members.

But it was not without its struggles, nor stigmatisation from peers.

Waitaki Boys’ pupil Blayde Forbes (14) said queer pupils were often subject to being berated. Blayde was confronted by other pupils after being seen wearing makeup outside of school hours.

Members of the Skittle group were regularly bothered by people using “gay” as a bad word, and were called “queer c . . .” by some.

Koru Parry (16) said although some may label opposition to these attitudes and language as “political correctness”, they could be very damaging to some people.

One Skittles member, who wanted to remain anonymous, said this sort of behaviour made it hard to come out.

“Belonging within us all is a primal need and when you feel ostracised it’s hard to feel safe, so this group is becoming that safe space to share these stories without shame,” Mrs Acheson said.

If there were people ashamed or hiding because of their sexuality, they could know there were others like them, she said.

The Skittles group meets at the North Otago Youth Centre every Monday from 3.30pm to 5pm.