Sitting there in the comfort of my chair looking out over the cascading blue Muri reef, her words washed over me, like the first waves in the morning, refreshing yet cool.
Lapping my conscience, piercing my bones like only words can acknowledging my own discomfort at the realisation that I had lacked courage and that courage steps away from the shore, and goes deeper into the water then maybe we have ever done before.
If we are good enough to exist with you, she said, good enough to work for you, good enough to serve you, good enough to teach your children, good enough to you’re your costumes, good enough to represent you in sport, good enough to nurse you when you are sick, good enough for you to take our money, why are we not good enough to be equal like you? Why, by law, are we criminals?
As my good friend Karla Eggelton spoke, I was challenged by her truth and challenged by my own, that though I had sat in agreement I had not stood with courage.
“If you really want to break down barriers of inequality,” she compelled the audience, “then it can start right here, right now. Be counted and truly contribute to the equality movement.”
She asked people to sign a submission form to support equality. “In the spirit of love, acceptance and respect,” she said, “let’s all work together.”
How often do we sit, thinking we sit in agreement, but when it comes time to stand in courage we find our hands underneath us, sitting in the comfort alongside the many other also sitting, also but in disagreement?
I was fooled into thinking that my inner agreement to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Cook Islands was enough. That this somehow should support.
And yet when Karla spoke, I knew then it wasn’t enough, and that courage would need me to stand and not sit any longer.
I probed my heart and soul and questioned myself on other matters, political and moral, social and cultural where I had stood with courage and times also where I had sat down, in agreement but knowing, because of my own sense of self-preservation that standing up and speaking up would cost me dearly.
I felt shame, and so I should because for so much of my life I have fought against those things done and hidden in silence, and yet here was I complicit in the silence in maters that I knew should have compelled me to speak up.
My shame is met with grace, confession and forgiveness and I know the love of God deep in my heart, so much deeper than a pastor’s sermon, or the evangelical altar call or the cajoling of a faith community. I have been a part of all of those, and contributed to them, and with that sense of forgiveness I can do better, be better and hope for better outcomes for myself and those in our community that need a voice and need others to stand with them.
The truth is we live in a climate of fear, we live in a society where people are afraid to speak up.
And I know this because I am a part of that community. Even if I currently live and work in Aotearoa, my heart and my future lies within the reef of Rarotonga and Cook Islands.
People do not speak up for fear of losing their jobs, or not getting a job, the fear of little or no promotion and the fear of quiet reprisals, conversations behind closed doors where their names are mentioned and met with disdain and reprisals, and this is my truth.
I have made the decision to speak with more clarity and not just allude to what I am saying or speaking about, because it lacks courage and courage is something we all need more of.
And courage was demonstrated by Karla and the Pride team that night and spoke so deeply to my heart, how could I not see my own reflection in the light of her words?
As a counsellor in the Cook Islands I have heard so many stories by people and students of courage, of people and their dark chapters, victims of darkness and so often I see those same perpetrators in the public eye standing in the light of day.
Those secrets remain locked in the confidentiality of my profession, and yet this cannot be confused with inequality that we see all around us.
I do take this time to apologise to anyone where my own lack of courage has meant I have sat down on my hands in agreement, but did not stand with courage when you so needed it.
Courage stands when others stay seated, courage speaks up when others remain silent and courage knows the burden of confession and the respite that is his grace and mercy to us all.
Today I stand with courage for the LGBTQ+ community in the Cook Islands and say if they are good enough to be our brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunties, mothers and fathers and friends, then they are good enough to be equal with us under the law and not criminals.