Doubts and Worries
When I left the United States to study abroad in New Zealand, I was nervous about the typical things that I think most students are concerned about before entering a new environment. Will I make friends? Will people like me? What do I bring? Will I get along with my flatmates? Are the courses going to be difficult? All these questions ran through my head as I was preparing to leave, but I was most anxious about my sexuality. Will I be able to express myself freely? Will I feel safe walking alone? Are queer friendly spaces available? Although I have been out for six years, and I do not attempt to hide my sexuality, it is still one of the most nerve-wracking identities to present to the world.
My friends that have been to New Zealand told me to not worry, that it was very progressive, and during their stay, they had never witnessed any harassment or discrimination towards a queer person. New Zealand also legalized same-sex marriage two years before the United States did. Yet, even after their input, I still felt uneasy. My friends were two straight, cis-gender, Caucasian students. We inherently experience and view the world differently
I wanted to believe that New Zealand would be as progressive as promised, but I had my doubts. The United States legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, but that did not, and has not stopped, discrimination towards queer people. I see this intolerance when people around me use “gay” as an adjective. I see it when I go home, and my father and his friends use a slur to describe an effeminate man. I see it when a baker refuses to make a cake for a same-sex couple. I see it when trans-women are violently murdered and when trans people are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military
To be honest, I expected the same bigotry from New Zealand. I asked my flatmates if they could recall any recent occurrences of prejudice within the country that has made national news like in the United States, but fortunately, they failed to think of any. I thought it impossible for that to be the case, but even after my own research (thanks Google) I found it difficult to find any comparable articles.
Conversations With Kiwis
One night, during the IFSA orientation, I was having a conversation with two other students on how I have boycotted a popular chain restaurant that donates large amounts of funding to places that run gay conversion therapy camps. One of the workers overheard our conversation and asked what we were discussing. I explained it to him, and he responded with something along the lines of, “That’s disgusting. Let people be who they are. There is nothing wrong with them.” I was delighted as this was one of my first interactions with a kiwi male.
After having a conversation with my kiwi flatmates about this interaction, they told me that this was definitely indicative of the current generation’s mindset. They told me that the younger generation of Kiwi’s do not care about sexuality and most are approving and inclusive of all people. This is comparable to the United States as the older generations are still warming up to the idea of same-sex marriages, and it is certainly the younger age groups that are at the forefront of normalizing and accepting our current reality.
Similarities and Differences
In comparison to Philadelphia, where I go to school, I have, however, observed some differences between the two cities. When walking through the streets of Auckland city, I do not see as many same-sex couples holding hands or showing PDA. Although at my home university there is not a large population of openly queer students, there is however, a considerable number of queer couples within the city of Philadelphia itself and this is where I see many visible relationships.
I was curious to know if my observations were just mine alone, or if my flatmates held the same point of view. The question sort of came as a shock to them. I could see them looking through their memory bank, retracing their steps for the day, trying to recall a time where they had seen a same-sex couple holding hands. I asked if they would agree or disagree with the statement that, ‘I can see at least five heterosexual couples holding hands throughout the day.’ They agreed. I then asked them if they would agree or disagree with the statement for same-sex couples. They were surprised to notice that they could not. In this way, I feel like New Zealand can be similar to the United States.
My flatmate Amelia described New Zealand as a country that likes to pride itself on being progressive but often fails to bring dialogue to the faulty realities that are occurring the country. In this way, I feel New Zealand can be similar to the United States. The legal system provides certain protections, but the experience of queer people – how accepted they are, how included they feel, are determined by the people.
John Rosario is a Managing Human Capital and Leadership, Ethics, and Organizational Sustainability double major at Saint Joseph’s University and studied abroad with IFSA at University of Auckland in New Zealand in Fall 2018. He served as an International Correspondent through the First Generation Scholarship program.