Almost 2000 people have signed a petition calling on the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum to use its influence to back the decriminalisation of homosexuality in seven states in the region.
A coalition of LGBTIQ advocates have called for the Pacific Islands Forum, the region’s inter-governmental policy organisation, to “immediately introduce supportive policies to ensure that all of its members uphold the values of its mission ‘to support full inclusivity, equity and equality for all people of the Pacific.'”
The petitioners state, “Seven of the 18 Forum member states maintain colonial-era laws that criminalize the lives of [LGBTIQ] people, threatening gender diverse citizens with harsh penalties, including but not limited to imprisonment, whipping and other corporal punishments.”
They say that while the laws aren’t often enforced, just having them on the statute books reinforces negative attitudes towards LGBTIQ people who face discrimination and in some cases violence as a result.
Tongan LGBTIQ advocate Joey Joleen Mataele is a “leiti,” the country’s name for a trans woman, and she founded the Tonga Leitis Association who provide shelter for homeless LGBTIQ youth.
“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.
“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 was a similar story today for many young leitis and the Tonga Leitis Association struggled to shelter the number of young people who had been rejected by their families.
The 49th Pacific Islands Forum will be held on the island of Nauru in September. Sign the Change.org petition calling for decriminalisation here.
(Photo by Pacific Human Rights Initiative/Facebook)