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Joleen Mataele

Joleen Mataele: sharing a life of an activist and an open transgender person M-F in a country that is so rich in culture and religion.

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The presentation by Joey Siosaia Joleen Mataele, titled "Proud 2016," was held at the University of Otago Wellington School of Medicine and provides a detailed insight into the establishment and evolution of the Tonga Leitis Association (TLA), its challenges, achievements, and the personal journey of Mataele. Founded in 1992 in response to the needs of the transgender community, particularly in the face of the AIDS epidemic, the association has grown from its humble beginnings to become an influential organization in Tonga and the Pacific region.

Mataele shares a poignant personal story of encountering a dear friend and member of the transgender community on a flight back to Tonga, who was dying of AIDS. The response of airport staff and the community highlighted the AIDS stigma and lack of knowledge surrounding the issue. This experience, coupled with the loss of their friend, helped inspire the creation of the TLA which aimed to educate about AIDS, provide support, and promote health within the community.

Initially, the TLA faced several challenges, including membership growth, funding, and acceptance within Tongan society. Nevertheless, Mataele details the significant strides made, such as securing royal patronage and achieving crucial health milestones within the community. They note the historical context of gender diversity and acceptance in Tongan culture before colonization and highlight the marginalization of transgender individuals within society.

Mataele reflects on their upbringing, the influence of family, and personal trials such as sexual violence and the conflict with traditional gender expectations. Through these experiences, Mataele learned the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation, even with those family members who had caused harm. This personal growth paved the way for advocacy and leadership within the TLA, ultimately leading to international recognition.

The organization, despite limited resources, successfully engaged in income-generating activities, such as the Miss Galaxy Pageant, to fund its operations. Also, TLA effectively utilized HIV testing data to confront myths and prejudices within rural communities, and members courageously addressed church leaders to challenge negative rhetoric and seek understanding.

Mataele also addresses the wider issues within the Pacific sexual diversity community, discussing visibility and acceptance challenges facing lesbians, gay men, and other sexual minorities in the region. Mentioning the Pacific Sexual Diversity Network Conference, Mataele demonstrates the solidarity and determination present within the community to overcome discrimination.

The presentation concludes with Mataele's heartfelt rendition of the song "You Raise Me Up," dedicated to all those who have suffered and those who have been lost to discrimination and illness. The address serves as a testament to the resilience, compassion, and progress of the LGBTI community in Tonga and the broader Pacific area through the dedicated efforts of individuals like Mataele and the collective action of organizations such as the TLA.

This summary is created using Generative AI. Although it is based on the recording's transcription, it may contain errors or omissions. Click here to learn more about how this summary was created.

Record date:11th March 2016
Location:University of Otago Wellington School of Medicine, Wellington
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Archive:The master recording is archived at the Alexander Turnbull Library (OHDL-004427).