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
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