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More than words

Tue 29 Mar 2011 In: Features

Phylesha Brown-Acton Glbt? Lgbt? Queer? Rainbow? Shakespeare's famous “what's in a name?” seems to go right out in the window when discussing a name for the ‘gay community'. A lot is in a name when it comes to defining who we are, it seems. The disquiet with being lumped into the clunky but widely-used glbt (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) or lgbt (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) was clear in a poll asking readers what they prefer, where we listed a number of terms from glbt to rainbow and queer. The most popular answer? “None of them”. Is it because we don't want to be lumped into one umbrella group? Or do we just not like the names? For Pacific people in particular the answer is pretty easy. “It's not how we identify ourselves. It is not relevant to our place in society,” Pacific delegate Phylesha Brown-Acton told the AsiaPacific Outgames Human Rights Conference in Wellington. Brown-Acton was speaking on behalf of a strong Pacific delegation at the gathering, and led a call for the inclusion of culturally appropriate identity terms in official documents and even, where possible, everyday language. “Lgbt is a term we in the Pacific have been bundled into for no apparent reason other than that of application and the absence of any other term,” she says. “It's 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 with a group. “Granted it has history and it has a place in western civilisation. But in the Pacific it shows passive ignorance, ignorance on the part of the agencies and the governments that use this label to label us. Lgbt's name and meanings do not belong to us in the Pacific. It's not how we identify ourselves. It is not relevant to our place in society.” Brown-Acton says using more appropriate terms in official global or regional documents would make a big difference in Pacific nations as it would make them more relevant and less likely to be bypassed by their nations' leaders. “Not only that but it makes sense the percentage of our and our leaders' buy-ins will be much higher, than using what are considered in the Pacific to be used culturally insensitive words and terminology.” She says it can't be that hard to understand that in each of the Pacific countries there is an official language and official terms. “There's 22 ways to say who we are,” she said. “If you want our vote in an international forum, learn 22 words.” Brown-Acton even made up a mnemonic “MVP FAFF” as a beginner's guide. Here are the terms it stands for and their countries of origin: Mahu (Tahiti and Hawaii) Vaka sa lewa lewa (Fiji) Palopa (Papua New Guinea) Fa'afafine (Samoa and American Samoa) Akava'ine (Cook Islands) Fakaleiti/Leiti (Tonga) Fiafifine (Niue). Jacqui Stanford - 29th March 2011

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Tuesday, 29th March 2011 - 3:12pm

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