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Standing unified: Cook Islands LGBTQ+ community celebrates IDAHOBIT Day

Friday 19 May 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National, Weekend


Standing unified: Cook Islands LGBTQ+ community celebrates IDAHOBIT Day
Celebrating IDAHOBIT Day. From Left: Katrina Matheson, keynote speaker Phylesha Brown-Acton MNZM, Australian High Commissioner Phoebe Smith and Clee Marsters. MELINA ETCHES/23051805

The Pride Cook Islands and Te Tiare Association’s public campaign to decriminalise same-sex relations in the Cook Islands have been successful, both organisations are now continuing their work to keep raising awareness of the LGBTQI+ community.

Family and friends joined the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) Day celebration on Wednesday night at The Edgewater Resort to hear from the guest keynote speaker Phylesha Brown-Acton MNZM who is visiting the island from Aotearoa New Zealand.

Brown-Acton, the executive director of F’INE Pasifika Aotearoa Trust, during her address pledged $2500 to both organisations to celebrate the historical date of April 14 marking the day when the Crimes Amendment Bill was passed in Parliament decriminalising homosexuality.

“(The fund is) To continue to support you in your amazing work that you do here,” said Brown-Acton.

“As I reflect on IDAHOBIT Day other than focusing on the discrimination, the fear and the persecution, there is also the theme of this year ‘Together always united in diversity’, so when we talk about that, it’s together always financially, it’s together always in solidarity, it’s together always in love, in protection of one another, that no one is left behind, that we continue to hold each other’s hand walking on the same journey and pathway so that unified and diversity continues to be an aspiration always.

“We talk about discrimination, we talk about persecution, we talk about fear and yes, it’s a reality for many of us in the rainbow community. But it’s also something worth celebrating, acknowledging absolutely key points around all of those that came before us.

“We are just an example of people who have been fighting over decades to be recognised by the law to be treated with dignity and respect as human beings and we are just the seeds that are growing today…”

In closing Brown-Action noted, “we need to stop letting people divide us … we need to come together, we need to be proactive, we need to continue communicating with each other to be a voice to each other… continue in standing unified in the future.”

Lady Tuaine Marsters, the joint patron of Pride Cook Islands and Te Tiare, started off the formalities with a recap of the Parliamentary debate over the Crimes Amendment Bill (now an Act) on April 14.

She said the “highlight of the day” was when the Leader of the Opposition Tina Browne stood up in support of the Bill wearing a Pride top, “she touched me, she supported the Bill”.

“We all loved her, her (plus another two) who supported, but not the Democratic Party,” said Lady Marsters.

Lawyer Valery Wichman, the president of Te Tiare Association, said: “Tonight is a night of thankfulness, of appreciation. It is also a night for understanding our orama (vision) for our community - where do we go to from now?”

Returning home to Rarotonga after finishing university in New Zealand in 2011, the Crimes Bill caught her eye.

“I couldn’t believe in my own country I wasn’t recognised as an equal… thus began the campaign for decimalisation,” said Wichman.

“It has been an emotional roller-coaster of ups and downs and you would see what people really think about certain issues.”

In November 2019, Pride Cook Islands was born – a positive result of all the challenges the rainbow community was faced with – to help put forth with the Crimes Bill

Wichman said the Crimes Bill kept being deferred so many times and finally on April 14 “the momentous moment in history - not only for our community, but it was the first time in our history where our politicians, our parliamentarians were able to distinguish between church and state - which is a huge maturing of our nation in all aspects”.

Wichman also paid tribute to all the leaders and politicians who supported the rainbow community in their maturity of thinking.

“Coming back to our Maori traditions, we have always been here, we’ve been here through our myths, our legends, our genealogy, we have never ceased to exist and we will continue to exist being equal as Iti Tangata Kuki Airani.”

Dean Tangata, the Pride Cook Islands vice president, said: “Pride Cook Islands has been and always will be an advocate for the members of our anuanua rainbow family.”

Tangata acknowledge the members of “our community who have suffered” and those who have lent their support.

“We have a responsibility a responsibility to ensure that those who come after us inherit the earth in all its splendour in a better set than when we received her,” said Tangata.

The New Zealand High Commissioner to the Cook Islands Tui Dewes and Australian High Commissioner Phoebe Smith also attended the event.