There are a lot of things to enjoy at this conference; two of my favorites are looking into delegates’ plates in the morning to see what they are having for breakfast and, the other is reading their badges to find out their country of origin. The other day I read, Mr. Ken Moala, Samoa on a badge. I went, wow! Samoa. I got to learn about LGBT issues there. I’m pleased to share with you part of my conversation with Mr. Moala.
Mariam: Mr. Moala, can you help us locate Samoa on a map?
Mr. Ken Moala: Samoa is in the South Pacific region, between New Zealand and Hawaii, right in the Central Pacific.
M. And you are representing?
M.K.M: I’m representing an organization called Pacific Sexual Diversity Network, where I’m an Advisor and Co-Founder. The network works with gays, men who have sex with men, lesbians, transgender and sex workers.
M: I never heard of LGBT issues in Samoa. Can you give us a brief overview and how it is to work on those issues in your context?
M.K.M: Organizing around the issues of LGBT has only evolved in the last 10 years. Before that, homosexuality was part of traditional society, part of the culture. Like I said, organizing has only begun in the last 10 years, principally because of the need to change the laws against homosexuality left by the colonizers. Like in other parts of the world, the Pacific was divided up amongst Britain, New Zealand, Australia, France, United States and to some degrees, Germany. They actually left a lot of their laws behind; most of those laws were old, archaic, discriminatory laws. One of those laws that we have been working on is the law against female impersonation, which criminalizes cross-dressing, especially men dressing up like women. Another of these archaic laws is sodomy law and indecency acts that we are working to remove. We were successful in removing the one on female impersonation and are now working on the other two.
Each of the islands has it own particular set of issues; there are about 12 islands that still have these laws in their systems.
When it comes to the enforcement of these laws, I have had many workshops and consultations with our government, especially with the Attorney General, in which I asked them if they were willing to enforce these laws if cases were brought to court. They said, “No. We cannot, because this is part of our culture; queer people have always existed in our society”. Then I asked, why are you maintaining these laws then? Their usual response is that removing them takes time, that it’s a process. And my response has always been, well, we need to remove those laws.
In general, homosexuality is tolerated, not accepted in our societies.
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