This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity
Phylesha Brown-Acton: Thank you very much, Maryan, for the introduction. First thing, I'd like to acknowledge te mana whenua of Aotearoa, and to the many New Zealanders here today thank you for hosting such an outstanding event.
I would also like to thank management, the cooks and the cleaners, who have fed us and cleaned up after us and made us feel so welcome. Fa'afetai lava.
To my Pacific sisters and brothers, although soon it will be farewell I can honestly say it is wonderful to see the Pacific finally being represented. And saying this I give sincere thanks to the Kingdom of the Netherlands for getting us here, to Barry Taylor and Jack Byrne for your assistance. Fakaue mahi.
To our Asian and international delegates I need not say welcome, but I wish you safe travels home.
Kia ora, Talofa lava, Kia orana, Malo e lelei, Fakalofa lahi atu, Bula vinaka, Namaste, Taloha ni, halo olketa, mauri, alofa.
As you know, my name is Phylesha Brown-Acton and I'm currently the Programme Coordinator for International Development at the New Zealand AIDS Foundation. But it's also important to note that I'm not here with my NZAF cap on today, I'm here actually as a Pacific Delegate. I'm of Niuean, Cook Island, American, American Samoan and Australian descent, raised by a Tongan stepfather but founded upon a Niuean upbringing. I identify as fakafefine, akava'ine, fa'afafine and also leiti.
I'm not here today to speak to make you laugh. I'm not here today to make you cry nor disrespect anyone or group. I'm here today to make a serious statement about how we feel in the Pacific based on my observations of my work thus far and after speaking to the many of you in this room during the last three days.
I was initially going to emphasize what is going on in the Pacific, what work is happening currently, what has been achieved and the challenges going forward, but since being here I sense that a movement amongst us Pacific people is ready to burst. Perhaps it's the culmination of a few journeys that have been woven together. Perhaps it is the people who have been and are now involved. Perhaps it is the wonderful setting of the capital city of Aotearoa, which not too long ago had its first takatapui Mayoral candidate in Miss Carmen Rupe, and later on the world's first takatapui member of Parliament, Miss Georgina Beyer.
Although the topic today is movement building for change, raising the Pacific rainbow, I want to touch on some very important topics raised by the two previous Pacific keynote speakers.
Fuimaono Karl Pulotu-Endemann captured the history of the term fa'afafine so eloquently and made reference to the umbrella term LGBTI as a term that has no reference to us Pacific peoples, but rather a reference term akin to something more medical, which refers to sickness, or to fit groups within groups within groups, which goes against the very fabric of traditional Pacific terminology for us as a group.
And Miss Vaitoa Toelupe from the Samoan Fa'afafine Association, who captivated us with an in-depth overview of the place that culture, respect and guardianship of spirits has in place of the fa'afafine in Samoa.
Amongst many other discussions this week there were key points which I need to raise with you all today. My failure to do so would be an injustice to this amazing vibe and sense of pride I'm feeling right now. So, here is my hit list.
1) The use of the abbreviated term LGBTI and why it doesn't fit in with us Pacific peoples.
2) The inclusion of our culturally appropriate identity terms.
3) Non-representation of Pacific peoples at AsiaPacific and global forums.
The global use of the LGBTI abbreviation is overwhelming. It is a term we know so many ethnicities and people use with pride around the world. It is a term we in the Pacific understand and have been bundled into for no apparent reason other than that of application and the absence of any other term. All Pacific peoples with a different sexual orientation to straight and heterosexual shall be henceforth collectively called LGBTI. Granted, it has history and it has a place in western civilization, but in the Pacific it shows passive ignorance ? ignorance on the part of the agencies and the governments that use this term to label us.
I've said it before: LGBT's name and meanings do not belong to us in the Pacific. It is not how we identify ourselves. It is not relevant to our place in society.
It saddens and hurts me because I've heard a few whispers around the town hall during the conference around: Well, if their patron is the Prime Minister then why haven't they signed the Joint Statement? I am assuming they're referring to the Joint Statement on ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. What they don't see is the lobbying work of the Samoan Fa'afafine Association at the United Nations level. And given that Samoa has just had its elections, with a crossover period of caretaker government in which no treaties can be ratified or major decisions made until a new government is sworn in, perhaps that is the real reason why.
We agree and see the relevance of pressuring our governments to endorse this Joint Statement, and we see the benefits of its universiality ? make no mistake about that. But, before we even get to ink on paper, in order to achieve an endorsement of this kind or any kind we want to make sure that reference to the culturally appropriate terms for us are used so that there is more relevance to documents, and that they are not bypassed because it has made to LGBTI.
Not only that, but it makes sense that the percentage of ours and our leader's buy-ins will be much higher without using what are considered in the Pacific to be culturally insensitive words and terminology. The simple government officer who sits and screens the Prime Minister's inbox may not relate to LGBTI as having anything to do with mahu, vaka sa lewa lewa, palopa, fa'afafine, akava'ine, fakaleiti, takatapui, or fakafefine, and it's often the reality in our countries because our straight-specific Island community don't get LGBTI, they get our traditional terms and our definitions.
We Pacific peoples here today have a responsibility, in being a part of the rainbow family, to apply pressure to the government in the Pacific when endorsements like this need to be committed to; but if it has no cultural relevance to us that places unnecessary barriers with our leaders to even see the importance it has on us, especially when there are very few crimes of hate in Polynesia, but they're overwhelming and happening in Melanesian and Micronesian countries.
Out of the 130 countries who need to endorse this Joint Statement, 22 Pacific Island countries and territories make up part of this voting number, which is a huge number for one region. Note that India gets one vote, but has one billion people, so the importance of our 22 votes must have some cultural reference in order for endorsements to happen.
Here is another example: I love the vision and the statement of the Outgames. It states: For all people, whatever their sexual orientation, sex or gender identity, to live in inclusive societies with equal access to the resources and services that will ensure the physical, psychological and spiritual well being of themselves and their families, to fully participate in the economic, social, cultural and political development of their society, and also to enjoy equal protection under the laws from discrimination and violence.
I was able to come to this conference because of the cultural and spiritual reference, and because there is a place at the Outgames here for us Pacific peoples.
Point two: The inclusion of our culturally appropriate identity terms. How hard is it to understand that in each of these countries there is an official language and an official term for each of us? That's 22 ways to say who we are. If you want our vote on an international forum, learn 22 words.
Here's a quick mnemonic I've made up to help you remember, in the spirit, of course, of the Outgames; and that is: MVPFAFF
M for Mahu in Tahiti and Hawai'i.
V for Vaka sa lewa lewa in Fiji.
P for Palopa in Papua New Guinea.
F for Fa'afafine in Samoa and American Samoa.
A for Akava'ine in the Cook Islands.
The second F for Fakaleiti or leiti in the Kingdom of Tonga.
The third F for Fakafefine in Niue.
Of the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories in the Pacific region to even incorporate all the abbreviated terms it would look something like the alphabet.
But how wonderful also, as an example, that a Caucasian project officer from some entity, maybe in Australia ? sorry, Australia ? would be in Fiji, for example, for one month and talk to vaka sa lewa lewas and address them as such. To then pop over to Tahiti and speak to the mahus and address them as mahu. And then they report back to the entity, make no mention of LGBTI but use the culturally appropriate term. Imagine what would happen. Their superiors would instantly request a briefing of the cultural significance of this new terminology, and along the way that entity might learn that the only way to break into the conclave of the MVPFAFFs of the Pacific and have meaningful dialogue is just to say the word ? the right word.
Imagine the pride in our faces as they speak to us in a term that we understand. We should bend over backwards ? pardon the pun ? to assist such a person and show them the inner workings of our culture and our place. Here is to hope!
Where to in the future? How do we in the Pacific raise our rainbow flag? We need you to incorporate our traditional terms into your LGBTI terminology. Who cares if it reads LGBTIMVPFAFF and so on? As Marilyn Waring said in her keynote earlier this week, "Don't be afraid. Use what you have to use." And we want you to use our traditional terms. She also stated that the umbrella abbreviation of LGBTI movement can also jeopardize other movements. It could jeopardize ours.
I would also like to reiterate the sentiments of thanks to the Kingdom of the Netherlands for, again, allowing the Pacific to have a voice here during this conference, as it allows for us to seek more advice from key peoples at these events and also allows us to be more in tune with the international networks and issues, and it gives us proper representation.
This is the first time in history we have had the presence and heard the voices from our sisters from American Samoa, and I am so humbled by their presence. Thanks to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
It has uplifted us to feel more included in the AsiaPacific region by being at the Outgames Conference, but my only pet peeve about the AsiaPacific Outgames Conference is I haven't seen or known of any Pacific representative, so maybe that is something, Barry, for you to put into your reports, please, because we'd love to see or have someone from the Pacific be involved at that level.
And in saying that, this is where I stand strong and make this bold statement: If your regional board network or entity use the AsiaPacific name, if there is no Pacific representation from Pacific peoples, then take out the Pacific context or be more specific about what part of the Pacific Ocean you represent, whether it be the Pacific Rim or of Pacific peoples.
Thank you very much.
Transcript by cyberscrivener.com