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‘Hard Talks’ explore empowerment for Cook Islands LGBTQ+ community

Tuesday 16 April 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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‘Hard Talks’ explore empowerment for Cook Islands LGBTQ+ community
Panel members speaking on the “Human Rights or Tika’anga Tangata – Unlocking our Potential” at the Muri Beach Club Hotel last night. The discussions explored the evolving relationship between Tika’anga Tangata and Anuanua rights in the Cook Islands. MELINA ETCHES/24041525

The empowering “Kai Vananga – Hard Talks” panel discussions, exploring empowerment for the Anuanua (LGBTQ+) community, were held yesterday at the Muri Beach Club Hotel in celebration of the Anuanua festival week.

In the first discussion, panellists delved into the thriving spaces created by the community itself, such as grassroots initiatives and support groups, which foster empowerment and community building.

Challenges faced by the Anuanua community, including social stigma, discrimination, legal barriers, and cultural norms were also acknowledged. By openly discussing these obstacles, the panel aimed to foster a deeper understanding of the path toward empowerment within the unique context of the Cook Islands.

Ultimately, the discussion seeks to build bridges between the Anuanua community and the wider Cook Islands society, paving the way for a more inclusive and empowered future for all.

Dr. Debi Futter-Puati was the moderator for this session, and the panellists were Dean Kapi–Tangata, Jean Nootai, Luther Berg and Princess Raukete.

The second discussion was based on “Human Rights or Tika’anga Tangata – Unlocking our Potential”. The discussions explored the evolving relationship between Tika’anga Tangata and Anuanua rights in the Cook Islands.

Lawyer Valery Wichman, the chief advisor of Te Tiare Association, was the moderator for this discussion. The panellists were: Phylesha Brown-Acton, a trans and community activist who has served LGBTQI and Pasifika communities for over 25 years, in Aotearoa, New Zealand, Lady Tuaine Marsters – patron and advocate for the Anuanua community, Karla Eggelton – Cook Islands Tourism CEO and Pride Cook Islands president, and Fletcher Melvin, chairman of the Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC).

Panellists looked into the perspectives of Anuanua individuals, exploring how they navigate the complexities of claiming their rights while respecting the Akono’anga Māori and Peu Māori.

They also discussed recognising the importance of both human rights and cultural heritage. Additionally, they identified strategies for promoting inclusivity, respect for diversity, and the preservation of the Cook Islands Way, and what this meant for the Anuanua (LGBTQ+) community

Through their discussion, the panel aims to chart a course toward a future where all Cook Islanders, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can reach their full potential in a society that embraces diversity for a stronger nation.

The third panel focused on “Health – Where to Next?”, probing into the healthcare landscape for the Anuanua community in the Cook Islands.

Panellists examined the specific health disparities and challenges they face including barriers to accessing culturally competent and affirming healthcare services.

Issues like stigma, discrimination, and lack of awareness among providers regarding the unique needs of Anuanua individuals were addressed. As well as preventative measures for health risks like HIV/AIDS, exploring the effectiveness of current programmes and the role of education, outreach, and resource access in promoting sexual health and well-being within the community. The accessibility of healthcare services for transgender individuals, exploring strategies for improving access, inclusivity, and creating safe spaces within the system were also discussed.

The panellists also addressed the gaps in healthcare services and exploring potential solutions through advocacy efforts to expand access to essential healthcare interventions.

Dr Sam Manuela was the moderator for this discussion, and the panellists were Valery Wichman, Dr Patrick Thomsen, Talia Temaru and Dr. Evangeline Wong.

Today, the free Anuanua Film Day will start at noon at TJ’s studio in town (near Tuki’s) showcasing five movies – at 12 noon – Mysterious Way, 1.45pm – Island Calling, 3.15pm – short films, 4.15pm – Next Goal Wins, and 6.15pm – Prayers for Bobby.  Visit the Pride Cook Islands Facebook page for more information.