|Jonathan Selu has started a Facebook group for Tagata Pasifika people to show their support for marriage equality. He tells us why it’s so important to stand up, especially in the face of the vicious Tongan church protest over the weekend.
The links and outraged comments were flying on Facebook over the weekend, as people reacted with revulsion to the extreme views shared at a small protest organised by a group of Tongan churches in Mangere.
"Lesbi/gay copy ... animals" read a home-made sign one man held. Another next to him used a vivid to describe any MPs who support marriage equality as "mantally sick".
Anti-equality Labour MP Su'a William Sio and National's Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi were in attendance, with the latter spouting a blatant untruth to those gathered that the majority of his colleagues were against the bill.
Prime Minister John Key was also labelled “John Gay” by another speaker at the rally, which has been the vilest public display of anti-gay acrimony so far during the marriage equality debate, with much of the previous hatefulness coming online or in anonymous letters to MPs.
It also punctuated the perception of powerful opposition to gay, lesbian and transgender New Zealanders being given full marriage rights from the church-centred Pasifika community.
Mormon Mangere MP Su'a William Sio has even warned his own party that his colleague Louisa Wall’s bill could cost it the next election. "This issue cuts deep into fundamental beliefs," he told Radio New Zealand. "It will divide the community."
It’s in this harsh context that half-Samoan, half-Palagi and fully- gay West Aucklander Jonathan Selu has started the Tagata Pasifika for Marriage Equality Facebook group, which is a place for people of Pacific descent who believe in equality to stand up and be counted.
Selu, a community worker, says it’s “totally ok” for people to feel upset about the weekend protest. “It highlights that you are clearly passionate about marriage equality and this is important to you.”
He says the marriage equality battle is an interesting one for Pasifika New Zealanders, particularly since the media seems to be presenting their community’s view as entirely against the Bill.
“Like any community, there are those in favour, and those against but our community has been painted to be wholly against it, which is completely unfair,” he says.
“However, it does make it difficult to then come out and say I am Pacific and pro-marriage equality, especially within some of our communities.”
Selu says anyone who feels upset about the Tongan churches protest now needs to do something about it: “Stand up, be proud of who you are and work for the good of issue.”
That’s what he is doing, in trying to bring people together. As someone who is very much into his Fa'aSamoa who is also gay, has had an interesting mix of cultures to navigate. He says meeting other queer Pacific people has meant that he has been able to reconcile his Samoan-ness with his queer identity too.
Hence he has started the Facebook page with the aims of providing a forum for Pacific people to stand up and say that they support marriage equality for all, regardless of their own sexuality.
“I believe this is important in the face of the media coverage that paints such a negative anti-equality view. I hope that it provides an opportunity for our people to openly say 'I proudly support marriage equality'.”
He also hopes that on some level it affirms that not all Pacific people are against the bill and that there is always support and affirmation for someone’s own identity.
Selu is worried about the message being sent to GLBT Pasifika youth is that being queer is not ok, that being of Pacific heritage and being queer are mutually exclusive identities.
“I think that these things need to be seriously considered before comments or stances are made by anyone,” he says.
“Further to that, I think that this is something that affects more than our youth. Anybody who is Pacific and queer is effectively being told by actions such as the Tongan protest that queer people are not welcome in our communities,” he says.
“This is particularly disappointing because Pacific communities are all about inclusivity and unity. So why are they excluding our rainbow community from accessing their cultural roots too?” Jacqui Stanford - 31st October 2012