Tensions are rising across the Pacific region as nations that identify as Christian grapple with changing social views and increasing demands for greater inclusiveness.
These competing ideologies resulted in threats of violence in Vanuatu recently before around 600 people packed the Convention Centre in Port Vila to watch the V-Pride Fashion Show.
While the show was hailed a success and much of the night went peacefully, churches in Vanuatu had called for the event to be cancelled because it was associated with the nation’s LGBT community and the V-Pride organisation. Some churches had intended on protesting outside the venue.
However organisers claimed the event was not a promotion of the community’s sexuality but an attempt to give Vanuatu’s fashion industry a platform to showcase the event and the designers a chance to do business which could lead to economic activity.
The anger against the event resulted in weeks of tension in Vanuatu’s villages where designers and organisers were targeted.
However the fashion show went on, and permits for the protest by the churches were turned down by relevant authorities amid fears of violence.
Prior to the show, Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) Secretary on Mission Pastor Solomon Vanuaroro condemned the event and said acts promoted by the LGBT organisation were disrespectful and degraded Christianity and the customs of Vanuatu.
Vanuatu Christian Council, a non-government organisation consisting of seven churches, also stated Vanuatu was a Christian nation and had a responsibility to uphold Christian beliefs and values.
These values, according to the church, compelled them to condemn events such as the V-Pride Fashion Show.
Even the chiefs weighed in, with Port Vila Town Councils of Chiefs chairman Alicta Vuti declaring that he was not against the show itself, but of the involvement of the LGBT community and the promotion of homosexuality.
“As stands, our custom and culture will never adopt and accept this type of Western cultures that would help support the normalisation of LGBTQs in Vanuatu,” he told the Daily Post.
Homosexuality was illegal in Vanuatu until 2006, when the law was changed to allow for homosexual relations between adults.
There has been mixed reaction in Vanuatu, with both support for the event, and the goal of designers to strive towards economic prosperity and criticism from those who fear the nation is losing its Christian identity. Most of the criticism is directed towards the LGBT community saying such events give rise to homosexuality.
Pacific Sexuality and Gender Diversity Network say that what they call religious exemptions and discrimination by some religious groups in the region, is nothing new.
PSGDN chief executive officer Isikeli Vulavou said it was a common trend by anti-LGBTQI religious groups or leaders to “use and weaponise culture, religion, and customary beliefs to give credence and advance their argument.”
“The annual V-Pride Fashion Show in Vanuatu last week, which showcased the talents and beauty of the diverse marginalized communities in the country and supported their economic empowerment, was a great success,” Mr Vulavou said.
“There is nothing morally and traditionally wrong with hosting an event that showcases the talent of your people and raises funds to economically empower and support them and their families.”
Mr Vulavou said inclusion was a major theme of the event where women of all sizes and shapes, people with disabilities, including LGBTQI people, were celebrated and recognised as significant contributors to the country’s economy and an integral part of the Vanuatu social fabric.
He added that religiously inspired disdain, justifications, and hatred of gay people, amplified through the pulpit, should never be tolerated in the Pacific society, and must be condemned at all levels.
A large number of nations in the Pacific call themselves Christian nations and the constitution of these countries recognise Christianity as the official religion of the country.
According to a 2020 study conducted by the Australian National University, every independent Pacific nation except for Fiji and Nauru has a Christian population of more than 80 per cent, and most are above 90 per cent.
Christianity was introduced in the Pacific in the latter part of the 1800s when the island nations were being colonised and has become the only religion in some Pacific nations.
PSGDN argues that traditional Pacific culture allowed for the acceptance of transgender and transsexual people but this aspect of Pacific culture has been omitted because it did not match up to a religious belief that was introduced to the Pacific.
While Pacific nations attempt to protect their traditional values and beliefs that are strongly aligned with orthodox Christianity, a new generation is challenging the status quo. The battle between God and gay continues.
Editor’s note -This story has been updated. The original version incorrectly stated that homosexuality was a criminal offence in Vanuatu.
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