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Source: Massey University

Connor Mcleod says there are things everyone can do that will transform the lives of people of minority sexualities, genders, and sex characteristics.

Connor Mcleod is Massey University’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisor, based in Wellington. The new position was created and Connor joined Massey in January 2021. We sat down with Connor for a kōrero on his childhood, what his role involves and the changes he hopes to help create.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to join Massey.

Ko Rangitāne o Kaituna and the Wairau tōku iwi. Ko Connor tōku ingoa. Ko ōku tūkapi ko he/him.

My whānau and I are from the top of the South Island across the Nelson and Marlborough regions. I am takatāpui cisgender guy – that is I identify both as Māori and queer, and identify with the gender I was assigned at birth. I have spent several years working as a rainbow community organiser, particularly in the youth sector. I am thrilled to bring my experience and the generous teachings of my mentors with me to Massey University. Before this role I was an English Language Teacher at Nabari High School in Japan and before that I was the Rainbow and Inclusion Advisor at Victoria University.

Describe your childhood for us.

This is a complicated question, as anyone from a blended family would understand. All up I have eight brothers and sisters. The first part of my life was spent in Fiji. There we had a family farm with pigs, chickens, ducks, goats, cows, cats, dogs, mongoose, and ten thousand cane toads. I dived, snorkelled, sailed, and spent the majority of my spare time in the water. Not to say that it felt like there was a lot of it – managing a farm takes a lot of work. My siblings and I went to a small international school where teachers tried very hard to teach us Fijian and Hindi (which I promptly forgot when I moved to Nelson near the end of primary school).

I struggled a bit, as many do, being gay. Thrown into all sorts of traditionally masculine activities, and being generally disinterested in them, I never quite fit the mould of the eldest son. But being bookish, and later finding some very amazing rainbow organisers and activists, I made sense of my situation, and quickly moved into leadership positions from about the age of 15 and never looked back.

What was your first job?

In my late high school years and during my first year of uni, I worked for my dad as a commercial paua diver in Marlborough. This work was both brutal and beautiful. I love the ocean – and as a diver I loved swimming with sea creatures, collecting kai moana for my family, and diving longer and deeper every day. But… even after all these years on the water, I still get seasick! And snorkels and vomit is always going to be a bad time.

How would you describe your role and its purpose?

As the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor I work collaboratively with staff and students across the university to start and strengthen initiatives for all students and staff of minority sexualities, genders, and sex characteristics as per our Rainbow Commitment. This is a new role which began in January this year. I have in these first few months really loved working with so many passionate and engaged students and colleagues to create a better university, and challenge some of the statistics facing rainbow and takatāpui communities across Aotearoa.

Do you believe that what you do changes lives?

It’s not about what I do, but about what we all can do. We know that the adverse wellbeing outcomes facing rainbow and takatāpui communities in this country are disproportionate. That discrimination exists, and that solving these issues isn’t going to be quick or easy. But there are things we can do, that can and will transform the lives of people of minority sexualities, genders, and sex characteristics. We need to create a truly inclusive practice with a wide range of initiatives targeted toward rainbow communities. Feelings of isolation and social disconnection is often cited as the leading cause of suicidality for these communities. We can do work that helps address this. We can ensure students have supportive, trained, visibly inclusive staff around them, and improve our infrastructure, education, and accessibility. So does this work change peoples’ lives? Yes. It can and must. That’s the entire point of it. 

What is the best thing about Massey? 

One of the best things about Massey is also one of its most challenging: its diversity! With three campuses and significant distance student population, our people are less of a community, and more a collection of communities. Being Wellington-based, the work of reflecting this diversity into community practice will always be ongoing. The intersections of identity will forever be complicated. Yet it is in trying to ensure equity and inclusion that we see the best outcomes.   

What’s an achievement you’re most proud of?

One achievement I’m pleased about was when I spent two years at a rural Japanese high school teaching English. Being takatāpui, I developed lessons for my students on te reo Māori, karakia, kapahaka, and understanding sexual, sex, and gender diversity. I was then invited to give these lessons at other high schools in my city! While my work wasn’t oriented toward community development in Japan, I was able to weave this into my lesson planning and general mahi. Now, using this as an example, I hope to support staff in integrating more rainbow and takatāpui inclusion into their general work practice as well.

How would you describe the importance and significance of International Pride Month?

Pride, for me, is a contested term. It’s a time of celebration, political action, remembrance, community, and conversation. But not all at once to everyone. Despite these differences people might have toward the meaning of pride, International Pride Month serves as a time to centre rainbow communities: our lives, struggles, passions, and histories. In terms of Massey, I hope this pride month can highlight some of the amazing work being done in this space by our students and staff (and there truly is a lot!), as well as demonstrate how much further we have to go.