In May 2018, I was privileged to travel to Hong Kong to attend the Asia Pacific Rainbow Families Forum. I was also an invited speaker on the session, “Faith, Families and the Workplace”, where I represented Uniting Network NSW/ACT.
There were representatives from around 30 countries, including the South Pacific, through to Iran and Russia. Significantly for us, the conference was co-sponsored by GIN, the Global Interfaith Network supporting LGBTIQ people of faith. Consequently, the meeting had a reasonable level of discussion across many religions and their impact on LGBTIQ people in the region.
Some of the discussion included, the story of a brave group in Iran has established a counselling centre for LGBTIQ people. Last year the group had contact from over 800 people with over 3000 counselling sessions. Iran is a country where conversion therapy, flogging and the death penalty are legal punishments for people accused of homosexual acts. Due to censorship, it is difficult to get resources into Iran to help bring about change.
In an overview of Samoa, delegates heard how Fa’afafine (transgender people) can adopt children, in a culture that recognises that it takes a village to raise a child. Sadly, we heard in another forum around American Evangelical Churches funding the development of conservative evangelical churches through the South Pacific who are very anti-Fa’afafine people and the broader LGBTIQ community.
The Russian delegation spoke of the increase in homophobia in their country under President Putin, and the increasing anti-LGBTIQ legislation put in place, such as legislation that bans countries suitable for outward adoption based on whether they permit same-gender marriage.
We heard of LGBTIQ Muslim leaders in Fiji and Indonesia and the struggles they are having. In Indonesia, some lesbians are forced to marry, and in Fiji, the Muslim Leader has started a Mosque as a safe space for all people. In Cambodia, some key statistics are that 92% of Rainbow Families have experienced verbal abuse, 43% physical abuse and 31% experience sexual assault.
We joined in with the Hong Kong International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Bi-phobia (IDAHOT Day) celebrations in a major square in Central Hong Kong. The Tongan film “Leitis in Waiting” was featured at the celebrations and has won awards at a number of international film festivals. The film is the story of Joey Mataele (who also attended the conference) and the Tonga Leitis, an intrepid group of transgender women fighting a rising tide of religious fundamentalism and intolerance in the South Pacific Kingdom.
Finally I was honoured to be a participant in creating the official statement of the Conference. Below is an extract from the statement, which you can read in full here.
“We as Rainbow Families representing the Asia-Pacific region, wish to highlight the importance of visibility, engagement, full inclusion, safety and health of our families, and all the individuals who make up these families, within communities and jurisdictions of the Asia-Pacific.
“We believe that Rainbow Families are formed in a myriad of ways, and above all seek to support the positive development of children to become thriving and contributing citizens by providing loving environments that are safe, developmentally appropriate, and provide for all the children’s basic needs. We seek the recognition of all families, not just those formed through biological or short-sighted legal means, but inclusive of those formed through adoption, kinship, foster care, surrogacy, and out of emergency need focused on the needs of children.”
Jason Masters, Treasurer Uniting Network NSW/ACT.