RainbowYOUTH formed

24 March 1989

RainbowYOUTH marching in the Auckland Pride Parade,  14 February 2018
RainbowYOUTH marching in the Auckland Pride Parade, 14 February 2018 (Susan Blick Photography, RainbowYOUTH)

RainbowYOUTH was conceived at a Gay and Lesbian Conference held in Auckland on 24 March 1989. Set up mainly to provide a safe place where young lesbians and gay men could come together, the group was named Auckland Lesbian and Gay Youth (ALGY). It also organised social activities such as peer-support meet-ups, camps and other outdoor activities.

It took a few years for the group to figure out its main purpose and direction. In 1995 ALGY became an incorporated society and changed its name to RainbowYOUTH. It was mainly operated by a team of volunteers at an Auckland base. The first two paid employees were Shaun Hawthorne and Rhiannon Thompson, who were both involved from its inception as youth coordinators. They developed and ran education workshops for Auckland secondary schools.

Connecting and communicating with young people was a challenge in the early days. Letter writing, pamphlet runs and posters on university notice boards were key modes of communication – there were then no social media opportunities.  

Between the 1990s and 2009, RainbowYOUTH focused on establishing volunteer-run education programmes and social groups such as Gender Quest, which questioned and discussed issues around gender identity. A restructure in 2009 saw the introduction of an Executive Director, the first being Tom Hamilton.

The group had a major windfall when Tamati Coffey and Samantha Hitchcock chose RainbowYOUTH as their charity for the Dancing with the stars TV show in 2009. This immediately raised the profile of the group. After winning the show, Coffey and Hitchcock gave RainbowYOUTH a donation of about $260,000, enabling them to kick-start a range of national and local initiatives. The group also expanded its education programme into many schools, supported other queer youth organisations, and hosted a massive youth-led queer and trans hui.

By 2019 RainbowYOUTH had expanded exponentially. The group continued to provide safe places and a wide range of educational resources, professional development workshops and counselling services, as well as drop-in centres and peer-support groups throughout the country. The establishment of a ‘Community Wardrobe’ enabled the group to provide free, identity-affirming clothing for queer and gender-diverse people. RainbowYOUTH’s extensive social media presence reaches young people throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

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