News Culture Comment Video


Help can be hard to find when you grow up takatāpui

Wednesday 29th March 2017

But is support out there?



 Cameron Kapua-Morrell
Cameron Kapua-Morrell

Photo: Leigh Marama McLachlan/RNZ

"I've always been this big gay loud person,” says Cameron Kapua-Morrell.  And he says growing up that made him a target for bullies.

“I didn't know I was gay but everyone else knew so they just started picking on me. I was fat, Māori and gay - just a cocktail of trouble."

His family were living in a rough part of Gisborne, where gang culture was part of life.  “You know everybody was just about the money, the drugs, gangs. Coming out in that sort of environment isn't really the greatest idea.  Everybody is against you from the get-go."

Ministry of Health figures for 2013 show the highest rates of suicide were for males, Māori (especially Māori youth), youth aged 15-24 years and those living in the most deprived areas - and young LGBTQI people issues like homophobia, isolation and discrimination can take a toll on mental health. 

"I would have loved someone who understood me, who understood what the world was about and who could understand the struggle of being gay. But because I didn't have that, I had to learn to toughen my skin up. Just for a bit," says Cameron. 

He says he knew he was interested in other boys but it wasn't until he got to intermediate that he started questioning what that meant. "It was just weird, I didn't know. My parents didn't explain what gay was."

Cameron, who’s now 20 years old, kept his sexuality quiet right up until about four years ago, when he moved to Wellington.

"When I got here it sort of made everything clear and I came running out of the closet and burst open and the world just seemed better."

But coming out to his parents was far from easy. He told his mum over the phone. “She started laughing because she didn't know how to respond," he says.

But his father's reaction was simply replying “no comment”.

"That was emotional. That was hard," Cameron says.

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere chairs the Tīwhanawhana Trust, which is a takatāpui community group based in Wellington.

Dr Elizabeth Kerekere
Dr Elizabeth Kerekere

Photo: Leigh Marama McLachlan/RNZ

She has already published a resource on takatāpui, which is a traditional Maori term that many Maori are embracing to identify themselves and their diverse genders and sexuality.

But Dr Kerekere says gay and gender diverse children are at a higher risk of suicide, and more help was needed for parents and whānau, so she wrote the new booklet, 'Growing up Takatapui: Whānau Journeys'.

"Even where whānau are really supportive and they love their rangatahi and they accept them for who they are, it is still hard.

"There is still those feelings of denial. Because you have children and you kind of plan a life for them. You think about what they are going to do when they grow up and then when things change, you have to shift this whole story."

The booklet tackles the feelings that many parents have when their children come out and offers insights and tips to best support them, through a Māori perspective.

Cameron says it took his whānau time to accept him for who he is and he wishes there was more help back then for him and his whānau

"[For my parents] growing up, there were no gay people. Or if there were gay people, they were to be sworn at or bullied or picked on because that was the way back then."

"This resource will be so helpful for those who are struggling with their identity, especially our takatāpui Maori ... To have a resource like this is a new frontier. It is amazing. I hope it helps and goes out to all the schools."

Evolve Youth Centre youth worker Kassie Hartendorp says she sees a huge difference in takatāpui who have whānau support compared to those who do not. She understands this from her own journey.

Evolve Youth Centre youth worker Kassie Hartendorp
Evolve Centre youth worker Kassie Hartendorp

Photo: Leigh Marama McLachlan/RNZ

"My experience of growing up young and being takatāpui is that there was just such a great silence around what it meant to question your sexuality and be attracted to the same gender," she says.

"You live in this vacuum and you don't really feel there’s any real space for you. And when you do hear people start talking about it, it's usually only in negative ways."

While her whānau accept her for who she is, and the partners she’s had. “But it is more, we accept your right to be who you are, we do not necessarily agree with it all of the time."

At first they thought it was a phase - “for a really long time," she laughs.


1 - School is the hardest. It will get easier.

2 - Build a thick skin so bullies don't affect you.

3 - Don't cut off ties with your whānau.

4 - Seek support from services - you will find people who understand you. 

5 - Come out of the closet and set yourself free.

You can read the resource here.

Join the discussion »

Login to post a comment

Login or Signup


In accordance with our Comments Policy, all comments are moderated before they appear on the site. This happens 7am to 7pm each weekday.

Leigh McLachlan of Te Atihaunui-a-Paparangi enjoys reporting on her Maori culture and is a journalist for Te Manu Korihi news on RNZ in Wellington.
Join the discussion

Discuss, comment and read comments about this article.