Momentum is gathering for greater equality for LGBTI people in the Pacific Islands, especially because the situation is deteriorating there.
A coalition of LGBTI advocates have come together to start a petition to push nations in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) to create policies which would force member states ‘to support full inclusivity, equity and equality for all people of the Pacific’.
PIF is the region’s political and economic policy organisation. It 18 member states are; Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
Enough is enough
The coalition has timed the petition with this year’s PIF forum in September. Nauru will host the forum and is one the few countries in the region to have decriminalized homosexuality. Nauru’s President Baron Waqa who decriminalized homosexuality is the current PIF chair.
Joey Joleen Mataele is one of Tonga’s and the region’s most high profile LGBTI advocates. She is also a founder of the Tonga Leitis Association (TLA) who work to shelter LGBTI youth. Leitis is the name of trans women in Tonga.
‘Things have actually gotten worse rather than better in recent years due to the influence of fundamentalist religious groups from abroad,’ Mataele told Gay Star News.
‘These fundamentalists are agitating to resurrect the colonial era laws that criminalize our lives.
‘While many say it’s not likely that these laws would be enforced, the fact that they’re on the books gives cover to those who claim that LGBTI people are inferior and not deserving of dignity and respect.’
‘Our lives don’t matter’
Mataele argued the colonial era laws sent a message to LGBTI people that their lives don’t matter. The laws also tell people they don’t deserve equal treatment or access to the same opportunities.
‘The hostile environment that such attitudes foster is what forced me to endure years of bullying as a young person, even to drop out of school to escape the abuse,’ she said.
‘It’s a similar story for so many young leitis, even today. At the Tonga Leitis Association, we never have enough room to shelter the youth who are being rejected by their families and need a roof over their head.’
Organizations struggle to make sure that LGBTI people can access basic health care services and employment.
‘Elimination of these archaic laws will be the first step in the right direction toward reducing the bias and discrimination that make our daily lives so difficult,’ Mataele said.
Overlooked and ignored
The LGBTI coalition wants allied to step up to ‘make their voice heard’ and sign the petition. It needs as much support when it takes it concerns to PIF.
‘The Pacific Region is often overlooked, ignored, and under-resourced, especially when it comes to LGBTI issues. You hear all the time about important global issues in the Pacific, like climate change, but you hardly ever hear about gay or trans people,’ Mataele said.
‘It’s critical that all people of the Pacific, regardless of who we are and whom we love, are empowered to contribute to the development of solutions to these problems because we are all affected and we cannot leave anyone behind.’
Sign the petition here.