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'Acting for change’

19 July 2022

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Pacific leaders urged to decriminalise homosexuality across the region

Friday 17 June 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Pacific Islands, Regional

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Pacific leaders urged to decriminalise homosexuality across the region
Photo: RNZ

A former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson is urging Pacific leaders to decriminalise homosexuality across the region.

Speaking recently on a panel in the Netherlands alongside Pasifika queer activist Shaneel Lal from Fiji, Robinson encouraged the Pacific queer community to continue fighting for their rights.

During her presidency, Robinson signed the law decriminalising homosexuality and legalised contraception in Ireland.

Shaneel Lal says the current bill to ban conversion therapy has glaringly obvious loopholes and doesn't go far enough.
Shaneel Lal Photo: Supplied/ Pacific Cooperation Foundation

She said Pacific leaders will "gain" if they change the laws.

"People should not be criminalised for their sense of self and identity, and sometimes it takes a court case and it did in Ireland," she said.

"I hope that the Pacific Islands will understand that they will gain from decriminalising homosexuality throughout the islands."

Shaneel Lal said decriminalising homosexuality in the Pacific was on the backburner due to the climate crisis.

Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson Photo: supplied

They said little had been done in the Pacific to address the criminalisation of queer people as the focus has been on the effects of climate change.

Speaking after returning from the Netherlands, Lal said the Pacific has no time to address the issue.

"The climate crisis has taken up all of our resources in the Pacific and there is absolutely no time to focus on other issues such as social progress for the queer rights," they said.

"Imagine this, if you were trapped in a house, and you couldn't escape, and your house was on fire - you wouldn't sit in the house and complain about being treated unfairly, you would throw all your resources at trying to set that fire off and I think that's what's happened in the Pacific is that they don't have time and resources to focus on social progress - they have to throw all their resources and all their time at ending the climate crisis."

A Pacific LGBTQI+ advocate said Mary Robinson's call to decriminalise homosexuality in the Pacific was one of many voices displaying solidarity for the community.

Phylesha Brown-Acton
Phylesha Brown-Acton Photo: NUKU FB page

Phylesha Brown-Acton (MNZM) has served the Pasifika rainbow community for over 20 years and said nobody should be punished for being themselves.

Brown-Acton said while it was admirable that international leaders were lending their support, she hoped that they had a relationship with the countries they were speaking to.

She also said the commentary shouldn't undermine the safety of the queer communities in other countries.

"It's important to remember that if anybody has anything to say on an international platform around decriminalisation of homosexuality in certain countries, I hope they are aligned to the leadership in those countries from the community level," she said.

"To support them in their efforts because it's important that they do have those connections and those relationships and that their commentary isn't undermining the safety or the work that's being progressed by key communities to try and remove these punitive laws."

Having spearheaded the movement to ban conversion therapy in Aotearoa earlier this year, Shaneel Lal called on all Pacific queer people to work together and keep 'pressuring their leaders.'

"I would say if any queer Pacific people are listening, that to reach out - to coordinate to work together so that we have the power to pressure our leaders to change the laws of our countries."