Fiji Marks First International Day Against Homophobia
Fiji Marks First International Day Against Homophobia And Transphobia
Fiji became the first Pacific Island country to mark International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), with a panel discussion held at the University of the South Pacific (USP), on Tuesday May 17, 2011.
Over 180 people filled the room - with a mat needed for the overflow. Many also stood outside the AusAID Performance Space at USP, Laucala Campus for the three hour event. Those who attended included diverse students, academic staff, LGBTIQ, sex worker, feminist and human rights organisations and networks, faith based groups, regional institutions, UN agencies and the wider public.
The Deputy Vice Chancellor of USP, Professor Susan Kelly in her welcome address emphasized the need for respecting and celebrating diversity and not just recognizing or tolerating. ‘Equal Rights for Everyone, Whomever they Love’, a video message by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights was then shown, after which three panelists spoke to the 2011 IDAHOT theme ‘Same-sex Couples – A Story of Love’.
Ashwin Raj, a USP academic spoke about bodies as political spaces- as the site of contestation for a number of normative ideologies and practices such as love, sovereignty, internalized homophobia, and self hate. He also spoke of the body as a zone of intersection between race, class, gender and sexuality. Ashwin added that in order to think through the idea of love, one of the themes of IDAHOT, in a politically productive sense rather than a commoditized affect in a global market, one must talk about the return to one self. This, he said, entails the recognition of our bodies as volatile and politically productive spaces and it must begin with love for oneself.
Citizens’ Constitutional Forum CEO and human rights activist, Reverend Akuila Yabaki provided a faith-based perspective keyed into the biblical texts most used as an ideological justification to persecute people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and offering alternative interpretations based on social justice and human rights perspectives. Reverend Yabaki also affirmed the shifting positions of certain churches that have moved progressively over time towards greater inclusivity for people of diverse sexuality.
Feminist and sexuality rights activist, Noelene Nabulivou of DAWN called for increased regional discussions on often-silenced aspects of gender equality and sexuality rights and a move from the politics of tolerance toward that of erotic justice. She said that this requires strong commitment and resources of state and non-state actors. Noelene also highlighted the Yogyakarta Principles, a set of international principles related to sexual orientation and gender identity, as an important global advocacy tool. Copies of the Yogyakarta Principles and Activist Guide were widely distributed at the event, as was a pamphlet entitled The United Nations Speaks Out: Tackling Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, a collaborative effort between OHCHR, UNDP, UNAIDS and WHO.
An hour of animated audience discussion touched on several significant issues. The question of Pacific cultural and religious context was raised. Responses questioned monolithic and static ‘Pacific culture’ and the point was made that there is no singular interpretation of Christianity or other faiths, just as there is no single notion of sexuality. The audience affirmed at several points the need for critical examinations of privileged ideas about culture and religion, and acknowledgement of their fluid, changing nature. They also discussed various ways that community education and arts programmes could be successfully used to discuss sexuality rights in urban and rural communities.
The Drodrolagi Movement (droMo) is a social, support and educational network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI), pinapinaaine, fa'afafine, fakaleiti and other identified students and their friends at USP. droMo members and allies organized this event. The panel discussion was organized with the support of the School of Government, Development and International Affairs and the School of Language, Arts and Media of USP and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN).
The Drodrolagi Movement is yet to be affiliated to the USP Students Association after three recent attempts. Kris Prasad, President of the Drodrolagi Movement said he hopes for a successful outcome from the upcoming USP Senate appeal. He added that droMo is of the conviction that affiliation is only a small part of a much larger struggle for respect, recognition and rights.
*Drodrolagi is the Fijian word for ‘rainbow’.