Conference on Gays and Lesbian Rights in Tonga Sparks Public Uproar

Protestors express dissatisfaction with the hosting of the human rights conference in Tonga. (Photo: Amanda Sasao)
Protestors express dissatisfaction with the hosting of the human rights conference in Tonga. (Photo: Amanda Sasao)

The first Pacific Human Rights on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference hosted by the Kingdom of Tonga has sparked a public uproar with protestors calling on participants to “Go home to your country with your immortality, pharm Tonga do not want you evil people.”

The island nation with strong Christian roots is hosting the conference focusing on gays and lesbian rights for the first time. The protest is also in response to the public’s dissatisfaction with the signing of the CEDAW, United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimation Against Women, reports the Tonga Daily News.

Although the United States of America have made big strides in the rights of gays and lesbians, the topic is controversial in the Pacific with strong cultures and religious roots such as Tonga.

Nonetheless, the Pacific is making positive steps towards equality. Next month, a lesbian couple will challenge Guam’s same-sex marriage ban in Federal court after being denied a marriage license.Last year, Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. signed a bill into law decriminalizing gay sex. These are examples of some positive actions made in the Pacific in recent years.

Despite the controvery this conference has caused, it is a step in the right direction, in terms of understanding human rights issues related to LGBTQI.

The conference aims to connect people particulary the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) groups across the Pacific to share information, ideas, strategy and programs affirming sexual orientation and gender identity equality in addition to building a network for advocacy and social action across the region.

About 48 individuals from various Civil Society Organizations and communities are participating in the conference in Tonga including Palau who is represented by Ms. Amanda Sasao, an LGBTQ rights advocate and founder of the LGBTQ-Palau group.

Asked about her experience, Sasao says it’s a moving and inspiring experience. “Coming here I’ve learned that it takes at least one person to start and everything else will follow.”

This may be the first sexual orientation and gender identity meeting that Palau has taken part in.

The conference, which started on May 11, 2015 themed “Our Voices, Our Communities, Our Rights: Advancing Human Rights related to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression in the Pacific”, is hosted by the Pacific Sexual Diversity Network.

Amanda Sasao (right), Palau's representative with Honorable Salote Lupepau'u Tuita Taione, Princess of Tonga.
Amanda Sasao (right), Palau’s representative with Honorable Salote Lupepau’u Tuita Taione, Princess of Tonga.