Contemporary                                         Culture

What are the next generation of thought leaders thinking?

Shaneel Lal of Rainbow Youth on decolonising the spectrum.

Words INDIA HENDRISKE Photography Adam Bryce
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Pride parades, Rainbow communities, and LGBTQIA+ culture may seem the epitome of acceptance and diversity from afar, but law student and Rainbow Youth executive board member Shaneel Lal would like people to know that this is not necessarily the case. As a gay, Girmitiya descent and indigenous iTaukei man living in Aotearoa, Shaneel feels the need for intersectionality in their Rainbow community is more vital than ever.

“Queerness does not erase white privilege,” they say. “I think what the community needs to recognise is that there are many people within the queer community that share intersectional identities.” Shaneel’s role within Rainbow Youth is to push for “a constitutional change”. “There is lots of work going into decolonising Rainbow Youth to make it more inclusive and serve all the intersections of the queer community.”

Shaneel’s passion fuels their advocacy work in banning conversion therapy — a practise that aims to change a person’s sexual or gender identities — in Aotearoa, where it is currently still legal. Last year, they addressed parliament with the words: “We are not broken, and we do not need to be fixed,” in reference to the widely denounced practise. Shaneel, who is co-founder of The Conversion Therapy Action Group, hopes that post-election, we’ll see massive shifts. “I hope that following the elections, as promised by certain politicians, we will ban conversion therapy and work towards explicitly protecting trans people in the Human Rights Act.”

Pushing for a major shift in the way the Rainbow community perceives people of colour and Black people is a key goal for Shaneel. “I intend to start more conversations about racism in the queer community.” Just this year, they entered into the Mr Gay New Zealand pageant. Immediately, they recall their identity as an immigrant being stigmatised. “One of the first questions I was asked was ‘would you rather be Mr Gay Fiji or Mr Gay New Zealand?’ At that moment, I knew inside me that I wasn’t going to win.”

The discussion is obviously poignant this year, in the climate of the Black Lives Matter movement. Shaneel promises to stay vocal.

“This idea of decorum, this idea of respectability, was created by white men in institutions that benefit white men and they never expected people like me to show up, ‘cause when we do show
up, we ruin it for them,” they say.

“Queerness does not erase white privilege, I think what the community needs to recognise is that there are many people within the queer community that share intersectional identities.”

“I hope that following the elections, as promised by certain politicians, we will ban conversion therapy and work towards explicitly protecting trans people in the Human Rights Act.”

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