Why the Pacific islands cry on 17 May

17 May 2016, 11:18 UTC | Worldwide
Francisco Carruthers at Auckland Pride 2016 © Carlotta Menna - Amnesty International
By Francisco Carruthers - Field Area Manager Amnesty International NZ

I was born on 13 April, 1990. A month and a few days later, on 17 May, the General Assembly of the World Health Organisation decided to eliminate homosexuality from the list of psychiatric diseases, in other words, it was not considered a mental disorder anymore. Good timing.

Fast forward to 2005, when a year-long effort from a small group of campaigners culminated in the first International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. A new day, a new movement, a new unique opportunity was coming to shape.

Fast forward again to August 2013, where the votes of 77 MPs made a courageous and bold move, and same sex marriage became legal in New Zealand.  We all cheered, applauded and ended our celebration with a waiata. History was being made in front of our eyes.

Now let’s jump to today, where being a part of the LGBTQ community is still a criminal offence in at least 76 countries, where being part of the LGBTQ community means capital punishment in at least eight countries. My heart aches, my soul cries.

Much has been said about the rights of the LGBTQ community around the world, and I wonder why little focus is put on the Pacific region. Is it one of those cases where the answer is that we are too far away from the rest of the world? Or is it because we actually have it better than our brothers and sisters living in other countries?  Yes, I am very saddened and disappointed by the new anti LGBTQ propaganda law announced by Kyrgyzstan, following Russia’s example. And I don’t even want to remember the events occurring in Iraq at the beginning of this year. But if I keep the focus at home, at least eight of our neighbours criminalise same sex acts. And even more ban same sex marriage. And I ask myself, why?

A really interesting case is Samoa. Samoa, where the emerald shore meets azure sea. See, to me, Samoa means the possibility of being thrown into prison for up to seven years. Surprisingly enough, same sex acts are illegal in Samoa. And it does surprise indeed, as Samoa has a widely recognised third gender, known as fa’afafeine, an integral part of tradition and culture in this society. Even though some positive steps have been seen in the last few years regarding the relationship between the government and the LGBTQ community, Samoa still refuses to review its outdated law. And this brings me back to homophobia.

  • Homophobia is more than physical abuse and intolerance.
  • Homophobia is more than attitudes and feelings.
  • Homophobia is more than hatred and fear.

In 2016, we are experiencing state sponsored homophobia. And we will never break from the stigma as long as we have laws that back it up, as long as we have laws that keep us from being free and equal in our society. And yes, I’m looking at you, Pacific countries.

This 17 May, I acknowledge that we have come a long way, and that we are still fighting hard. But I also choose not to forget those other 76 countries and their people, my equals.

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