Taking the opportunity to lead by example to support a culture of acceptance and inclusivity, we put together our first programme of events for February and March of 2021. This was timed to sit between the Auckland and Wellington Pride celebrations. It was a great time of year to have outdoor events. However, we eventually moved our programme to June, partly to align with International Pride Month and Out on the Shelves, but also because the start of the year is busy, coming out of school holiday programming.
Emma Lord says,” When you are part of a marginalised community, navigating everyday situations can be overwhelming.”
“There’s a fear, learned from observed and personal experience, that makes you ask, do those people think I’m a danger to their children? Are people like me welcome there? You know those opinions shouldn’t matter. But the knowledge of what might happen is always there. So, providing spaces that are explicitly queer-friendly is important. It shows firstly that we welcome our rainbow community, and secondly that this is not a place where people who want to intimidate our rainbow community will find support.”
This delivery is an important part of library services and programmes being inclusive, says Carla Crosbie.
“We are very aware that members of New Zealand's rainbow community continue to suffer from widespread discrimination. This sector of our community has the same rights as everyone else and these events are designed to connect, promote acceptance, diversity, and inclusivity.”
Emma says that as a public-facing librarian planning and running the events, there have been very few challenges. While there are negative comments online, the library’s management team doesn’t let staff be exposed to these.
“We know it happens but we’re not told about every detail. We’re informed on what we need to know, such as someone online told us to expect a protest and that the police were notified and will drop by to say hello and make sure everything’s okay. But we are shielded from what we don’t need to know.”
“There are always a few people making noise, but the support and thanks we receive far outnumber these. As part of our preparations, key messages are provided to staff to help them respond to comments or navigate difficult conversations,” says Carla.
“This year we did experience a higher amount of negativity on social media. This was carefully managed and monitored, and we were on high alert for a couple of days. I’ll be honest and admit it was unpleasant and stressful. But the team works hard to deliver great programmes and we would rather they concentrate on this instead of the things they can’t control.”
Assessing risk is embedded into everything we plan, deliver, and talk about. Hastings District Council has sound procedures to follow, from health and safety plans for every event through to risks and mitigations in the marketing and communications plan.
Sadly, risks such as protests or antisocial behaviour must be considered, along with the consequences of this and control measures. One measure is getting support from our kaitiaki staff, and our City Assist team and the security manager were advised of the events. Anyone who tried to be disruptive would have been quickly and firmly asked to leave, with escalation to the Police if required.
One of the best risk mitigations is having the support of Hastings District Council. As part of the marketing, we talk to council colleagues about how they can support this kaupapa. They proudly made their Facebook icon rainbow, shared all posts, gave Hastings Libraries of PRIDE top spot on the staff intranet, interviewed rainbow library staff for internal communications and highlighted Pride in the Chief Executive weekly update, and more.
Eight events were organised and attended by over 100 people across a two-week period. Attendance numbers were down this year, but this didn’t come as a huge surprise. Our community is recovering from the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle and for many the last few months have been tough. Add to this the increase in online abuse of our trans and rainbow whānau, some people are feeling pretty vulnerable.
Events were aimed at various age groups. They included a Drag 101 workshop, a pride craft buffet, a one-off book club, a picnic event, pizza and movies, and paint and stitch art. A highlight for Emma was the living library event, a stunning evening with six local people – gay, bi, trans, demi, aged from teens to 40s and from different cultures – talking about their own experiences and what it’s like being queer in the Bay. It was a powerful event for parents to attend with their kids.
Another highlight was The Rocky Horror Night. It was nostalgic and fun as well as interactive. We put the movie on our projector, provided a kit of supplies and encouraged people to dress up but not bring their own props. That way we avoided people throwing food items like rice and toast in the library.
In the past, we’ve also had Pride open mic poetry, which people love, and rainbow storytimes.
What we've learned from running these events
We've learned a lot from running these events over the last three years. Simple lessons like people love a Pride picnic, but not in the cold. Complainers will claim they are worried about “sexualising children”. But they clearly have no idea what rainbow storytime is like. Because it’s about the magic and drama of seeing people dressed and made up extravagantly, and about accepting all kinds of differences – there’s nothing at all sexual about it. Thankfully the complainers are outnumbered by the people who don’t attend the events but applaud us for running them, “It’s not for me, but I’m glad you do it, to show everyone it’s okay.”
There are always people (of all ages) who are excited and nervous to attend their first-ever Pride event, and it’s a real privilege to be part of that for them.
One winning moment was a local high school teacher coming in to say ‘Happy Pride’ and checking out our Pride reading lists. She runs her school's LGBTQ+ club and the kids have been commenting that even though there is more anti-trans sentiment online, it seems like more places are supportive of the rainbow community, mentioning the library as one of those places!
We encourage all library colleagues to continue to provide programmes and services specifically designed for the rainbow community. If you want to hear more about our experiences email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- InsideOUT.org.nz - free resources, project info, schools support, training and consultancy.
- Open to ALL- Serving the LGBT Community in your Library- an American resource, but still has useful tips about making sure your library is safe and inclusive for rainbow communities.
- Out On The Shelves - has more information about InsideOUT’s campaign to give people greater access to rainbow stories.
- Services to Schools blogpost: Diverse schools need diverse collections.
- Services to Schools page on Book Complaints – includes a template you can use.
- Alexander Turnbull Library’s team put out this excellent article a blogpost or so back: What’s in a word — describing LGBTQ+ collections.
- Explore the resources InsideOUT has produced in collaboration with Ministry of Education.
- Ministry of Education’s Inclusive Education guide is regularly updated to be in line with nationwide policy guidelines for schools.