Learn how to organise community events, with advice from queer, transgender, and rainbow activists. This is your 101 guide.
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Developing your kaupapa
The kaupapa – or foundational principles and ideas – will help to determine who should be in the organising committee, what kind of event to run, how to promote the event, and how to ensure that the event is accessible, appropriate, and useful.
To determine the kaupapa of an event, ask yourself three foundational questions:
Who: what priority group(s) will the event serve?
Consider whether your event will prioritise a particular age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, immigration status, disability, parenthood status, occupation, or experience. Always put the people first.
Why: what need(s) will the event address?
Ask what has inspired this event – what is it that the priority group needs?
How: how will the event address these needs?
Ask how the event will meet those needs – for example, if the need is social connection/addressing isolation, then the event will need to create opportunities to make friends, or make meaningful connections. If the need is housing, or disability justice, then the event should work toward a goal based on that need.
The kaupapa is the foundation, so it’s important to allocate enough time to go through all the details of who and why, before moving on to how. This will help you build a picture of who should be on the organising committee, who should be welcome or not welcome at the event, whether it should be open invitation or if there needs to be a higher degree of risk management.
All members of the organising committee should be in agreement on the kaupapa.
Your organising committee
The organising committee should reflect the priority group. If it doesn’t, consider why you are organising for people whose communities you may not be a part of, and how appropriate it is to organise for or on behalf of a group to which you do not belong. Inclusion of organisers from the priority group must be meaningful, rather than tokenistic.
If it is still appropriate – for example, if you are older queer people organising for queer youth – then you need to do outreach to young queers and get them involved in the organising in meaningful ways: they have the expertise on their issues, even if you have the expertise in organising.
Within the organising committee
Strong systems are the key to effective organising, and systems must mitigate risk and be resilient to unexpected changes.
Sometimes organisers can’t make it to meetings, can’t be on time, or can’t follow through on tasks. A good system recognises this and has ways to make sure that everyone knows what is happening and that all tasks get done.
Accessibility of the committee
Consider disability needs. Many disabilities are invisible, so it’s important to ask everyone what they need to ensure they can attend meetings and carry out tasks.
Simple accessibility planning can include holding meetings in mobility accessible venues, limiting fluorescent lighting and the use of perfumes and other allergens, providing food that caters to everyone’s needs, making meetings accessible via online video conference, good facilitation and minutes in meetings, and taking turns to volunteer for childcare duties or providing financial support for childcare.
It can help to decide in advance where and when meetings will be held. This might be the first Saturday each month, every week on Tuesday, or some other regular time. If meetings will be held online, set up a recurring event on a video platform and make sure everyone has a link to this.
Having a good, clear template for taking minutes at meetings is important, along with a central place to keep the minutes where everyone can access them. This might be a shared folder in Google Drive or a book which is kept at a shared office. Use what works for everyone in the committee.
Decide at the beginning on what process will be used to make decisions, and stick to that process. This could be a matter of majority vote, unanimous consensus, or something else. Sometimes it helps to make a visual diagram or flowchart together, so everyone is clear on how decisions will be made – especially if there are any disagreements later. Remember to include a quorum (number or percent of the committee which must be present to make important decisions), and give more flexibility for simple decisions.
You can download our guide to using a consensus process here.
It’s important that the committee understands it’s financial position, and that there is no chance of money being misused, or accusations of financial mismanagement. If the group has a bank account it is best practice to require two signatories to make any payments from the account. If not, cash should be kept secure, and a clear record of income and expenses should be maintained.
By planning a budget early on, you’ll know how much funding you’ll need to carry out your event. Remember to factor in any koha or payments to performers, speakers, presenters, etc.
Self care and caring for each other
One of the most important parts of organising is to take care of yourselves and not over-commit. Everyone should be honest with themself and their co-organisers about how much capacity they have to contribute.
It’s important to create the opportunity for everyone to participate to the extent that they are able. It’s ok for some people to take on a lot of responsibility and for others to only take on a little bit.
Look after your well being and make sure that you and the other organisers have support and time out, and that you are kind to each other, communicate well, and check in regularly.
Let the committee know if you commit to something but later realise you can’t do it- feelings of being overwhelmed happen, and people can make adjustments.
Be kind to people, listen to them, disagree with them without putting them down as a person. Don’t gossip about people behind their backs and, above all, have empathy.
Where possible, receiving input from a wider group of people can help you to plan better events. Think carefully about tools that can be used to facilitate discussions and receive suggestions, such as feedback forms, hui, or private groups (in person or online).
Remember that some platforms – particularly on social media – are only accessible to people who have an account on the platform (e.g. Facebook). These often can’t be organised or searched in the same way as platforms which are designed for office use (e.g. Google Drive/forms/spreadsheets).
If you have organising discussions online, you need to be very security conscious, and ensure there is a robust process for who has access to that information.
Be aware that anything you put online could end up public.
It’s vital that your target audience is aware of your event, has a clear idea about what it will involve, why they should attend, and how they can access it.
Your marketing/advertising is your first point of contact with the world, so make sure that imagery reflects your objectives and the tone of the event. Choose strong messaging for your posters/social media/blog page. Your advertising should appeal to your priority group and reflect your kaupapa.
Ensure that your advertising includes important information: what’s happening, the time date and venue (if that’s public info), whether there is wheelchair access, food, childcare, and non-gendered bathrooms, and how to make contact or register to attend. People will exclude themselves when they are used to being marginalised and excluded, so events should be clear that they are inclusive.
Use plain common language; don’t use activist/industry/community jargon, and don’t use euphemisms.
Consider whether it’s appropriate for people to register before attending the event – the size of the venue and the resources available for food and other things might be determining factors in this. Other factors can include safety, limiting numbers, and whether participants need to meet a certain criteria (eg. are they part of the target group).
If people need to register, consider keeping the location off advertising and sending it directly to registered participants instead.
If it’s an open invitation with the address on the advertising, consider security risks – for example, if you throw an advertised party for young trans people, then it’s your responsibility to make sure no anti-trans campaigners show up and threaten the safety of participants.
A safer spaces policy – or SSP – is a bit like a non-discrimination policy and code of conduct. It is more commonly used for group than for an event, but sometimes events have these as well.
In Te Ao Māori we have kaupapa, tikanga, and kawa, which outline the foundational principles we expect to be upheld, and the specific behaviours we want to see or not see. This is a great approach to safer spaces.
A good safer space policy is one that tells people about the culture of the space, and encourages learning and self empowerment with community support. It should contain minimal jargon, and explain itself clearly in common language.
Many safer spaces policies have been written for and by white cisgender women with a view toward preventing sexual violence against themselves. This is a good goal, but it’s necessary to think more broadly and with more nuance about the people who need to be safe, what they need to be safe from, and how to go about promoting a culture that supports healthy and sustainable communities.
A SSP might include principles and behaviors in relation to racism, transphobia, fatphobia, ableism, transmisogyny, sexism, alcohol and other drug use, violence and self harm, and a number of other social justice and safety issues.
There may be a particular time when it is especially important to have an event – such as during Pride month, trans awareness week, or while a topic is particularly relevant. Consider whether there are other events that you don’t want to clash or compete with.
Make sure you have enough time to organise. Without an adequate time frame, you may need to limit your ambitions. Give yourself time to have committee meetings and do the ground work, and to contact and confirm anyone you would like to have attend; such as speakers, entertainers or presenters.
Allow time for event promotion, and give attendees enough time in advance so their calendar isn’t already full.
Accessibility of the event
Consider how cost might be a barrier for your event, and how mitigating this might be achieved. If it’s necessary to charge entry, consider a tiered pricing schedule, low cost tickets or sponsored tickets. If you need to raise funds in advance, make sure this is possible.
Choose a venue with good public transport access and easy parking. Choose a venue that will be comfortable for your audience – for example a marae feels very different to a conference centre.
The physical needs of attendees are important, some people need elevators etc for mobility. Other accessibility considerations include lighting (many people can’t be under fluorescent lighting), chemical sensitivity (some people struggle with strong smells like incense and cologne/perfume etc), noise and sound (can everyone hear the speakers, etc), places to sit down/lay down.
If your event seeks to include people whose first language may not be English, or D/deaf people, then having interpreters will make a big difference for their inclusion.
Carefully considering the layout, and having support people available can make your event more accessible to blind people. Using a large font in documents and presentations, and dyslexia friendly colours are also things you can do to remove physical barriers to people being included.
For overnight events you should consider proper beds for those who can’t sleep on a mattress or use a sleeping bag. Look for ways to better cater to people with larger bodies, and higher mobility needs, like providing a variety of types of seating, and seats set aside with easy access to the exits. Make it clear to people that these seats are reserved for people with mobility/access needs.
Consider whether your event is accessible for children, and for parents and families with childcare considerations. Childcare subsidies and child friendly spaces/activities/helpers will mean those families can attend without worrying about their children. The gendered division of caring labor is an important part of this as an accessibility concern.
In workshops/discussions have the MC or facilitator give a shout out to parents at the beginning of each session to say that kids are welcome and to remind speakers to just use a loud voice or speak into the microphone if there is any noise in the room. Make it comfortable and not a big deal.
Make sure your sound equipment is appropriate to the size of the room/crowd.
Look for venues with non-gendered bathrooms/changing rooms/sleeping spaces. If they aren’t available, work with your venue to modify what exists. Gender Minorities Aotearoa has non-gendered toilet posters available which can be used to cover gendered signs.
Any environment where bodies are a focus or semi/nakedness is expected will pose additional accessibility barriers for people whose bodies are often stigmatised. This can include stigma because of ethnicity, size, disability, gender etc. Careful consideration for mitigating risk and perceived risk are important.
Events such as pool parties can trigger a wide range of trauma issues, especially for people whose bodies are policed or othered routinely. For some, being casually naked in front of others may feel normal, or even empowering, however this won’t be the case for everyone.
People with more stigmatised bodies are more likely to opt for clothing or private stalls in bathrooms and dressing rooms, etc. It’s cool to feel amazing about showing your body. It’s also cool to keep it private if you want to.
Providing food can be a crucial part of your responsibilities as a host, and it also can make your event more accessible and interesting to more people. However, it can also be a big cost and a lot of work to do properly. If you are providing food, there are several things to cover.
Food is often a consideration that requires attendees to register, meaning you can ask each person about their dietary needs.
In general, it’s a good idea to provide gluten and lactose free options, options that suit vegetarians, vegans and also people who eat meat, halal, kosher, and a variety of other options. This must be done in ways which do not attach any value judgements to anyone’s diet. The only appropriate thing to say about someone else’s food is ‘Yum! that looks good’.
Make sure there is enough food. People should be able to have as much as they need without worrying about taking too much, and without being shamed by others.
Spaces designated for eating should be well thought through. Some people may not be comfortable eating around others, or in a noisy crowd, and appropriately spaced out or secluded eating areas can be a good idea.
Tikanga is an important consideration for serving food in Aotearoa; make sure that Māori hygiene is followed with regard to eating surfaces (as a general rule – no bums/feet/hats on tables, no kitchen cloths used to wipe floors or bodies, kitchen laundry should be washed separately, don’t make table cloths from used sheets).
Bear in mind that there are HEAPS of issues around food/eating/not eating for HEAPS of different reasons and try to make it non-stressful/not a big deal while providing options – casually. Don’t make a big deal about people with eating or food issues, make it work without added stress to them.
It’s important to think about the cultural ways people can be marginalised, and how leaning too much into the dominant culture can create barriers to attending.
We live in a context where all of our cultural assumptions and norms have an extensive and often violent history. Many things which seem commonplace or normal within the dominant culture – Pākehā, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied; are actually harmful. For an event to be truly inclusive and effective, it’s important to be aware of these factors, and challenge racism, Eurocentrism, colonisation, transphobia, transmisogyny, heteronormativity, sexism and ableism.
For example, events about gendered violence that centre the perspectives of Pākehā, able bodied, cisgender women leave a lot of women out of the conversation. Not only is this a problem for inclusiveness and working together in solidarity, but it also means the analysis that results from the event is much weaker and less useful.
The more diverse the input into organising the event, the more likely that the event will cater to a diverse range of people and perspectives, and will attract a diverse crowd. More diversity means better results.
This guide is being released for Transgender Day of Visibility 2023. #TDoV #TDoV2023 #TransDayofVisibility #TransDayofVisibility2023 #TransgenderDayofVisibility #TransgenderDayofVisibility2023