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Giving people the freedom to choose who they love

Monday 16 May 2022 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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Giving people the freedom to choose who they love
Ruta Tangiiau Mave. Photo: CI NEWS

Many Pacific island countries recognise and accept transgender but not homosexuality and although there is a law against homosexuality it is not often enforced. But it can be, writes Ruta Mave.

On May 16, 1944, over 6000 Roma and Sinti stood up to the Nazi SS in Auschwitz-Birkenau and delayed the liquidation of the Gypsy camp by fighting off the soldiers sent to take them to the gas chambers. It is a story of banding together of different groups of powerless people uniting and finding power within their unity. It’s an example of strength, courage, resistance and unity that is part of what the Rainbow community have had to do over the years to be heard whilst being abused, ostracised and persecuted. Their perseverance is slowly bringing positive and inclusive change but sadly not here in the Cook Islands.

Tomorrow, May 17 is IDAHOBIT – International day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.  It’s a day for showing support of people to live safely without fear of abuse or violence based on their sex, sexuality or gender expression. On May 17, 1990, WHO deleted homosexuality from its list of mental diseases and in 2004, the American state of Massachusetts became the first to allow same sex marriages.

The acronym LBGT+ means Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The + is an inclusive symbol to mean ‘and others’ to include people of all identities. Across history people have suffered due to laws condemning homosexuality.

Playwright Oscar Wilde wrote ‘The importance of being earnest’ which is often studied in schools. He was married with two sons, but when his private life was revealed, he was arrested and tried for gross indecency and sentenced to two years of hard labour.

Britain Alan Turing who was unknown during his lifetime is now celebrated for the crucial part he played in the victory over Nazi Germany in WW2. As a mathematician he invented a ‘computer’ to crack the Enigma code which is thought to have shortened the war by several years and saved millions of lives. He was arrested 1952 for being homosexual. Turing was given medication – chemical castration to ‘stop’ his illness. He allegedly committed suicide not long afterwards. In 2013 Queen Elizabeth II pardoned him and in 2017 the government agreed to officially pardon men accused of crimes like this, now known as the Alan Turing law.

Conversion therapy supposedly stopped or suppressed someone from being gay or transgender. It can include talking therapies, and prayer but also extreme forms of exorcism, physical violence and food deprivation. In the past there have been ice pick lobotomies, chemical castration with hormonal treatment, electric shock to hands and or genitals and nausea-inducing drugs were used. Walter Freeman from 1940 – 1950’s performed 3439 ice pick lobotomies despite having no formal surgical training. Most of his patients were severely disabled for the rest of their lives. It was eventually concluded that such methods can be called torture besides being ineffective.

In 1999 Brazil was the first to ban conversion or reparative therapy, relating to sexual orientation and it was extended to cover gender identity as well in 2018.  In 2007 Samoa passed a law stating people cannot be considered ‘mentally ill’ because of their sexual orientation. Fiji followed in 2010. In February 2022 NZ banned conversion therapy introducing two new criminal offences for attempts to change the sexual orientation gender identity or gender expression of anyone under 18.

In 1986 NZ passed the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, Australia in 1994 and homosexuality is legal in eight out of 14 countries in Oceania. Many islands recognise and accept transgender but not homosexuality and although there is a law against homosexuality it is not often enforced. But it can be.

In 1984 Chris Smith became the UK’s first openly gay male MP and when he announced he was gay he received a five-minute standing ovation. He helped pave the way for many other MPs to be open about their sexuality as well. In 2020 NZ became the gayest parliament in the world with 11 rainbow members in 120 seat parliament.

Meanwhile in the Cook Islands the archaic criminalisation laws on homosexuality overturned in 2017 now want to re-criminalise same sex relations between men and also include women. No doubt a nod to their sense of fairness and equality.  

The recent Youth Parliament project set the task to debate the issue with their final decision being in favour to decriminalise the laws against our Rainbow Community. The Youth leader said: “This continued discrimination is what is stopping us from stepping through the gates of transformation.” Wise words.

She goes on to say “This bill is not requesting special rights to be created for the Rainbow community, it is not about taking away rights from any other parts of our community. This bill’s essence is to give people the freedom of choice to love whomever they wish to, enjoy the same rights and freedoms that every human being is entitled to.” Such sense and sensibility of leadership if only our ‘old’ parliament were in touch with modern society.