On Zero Discrimination Day this year, the Pacific Sexual and Gender Diversity Network is calling on Pacific Islanders to speak up when they see something not fair, right or just.
Pacific Sexual & Gender Diversity Network (PSGDN) chief executive officer Isikeli Vulavou said the day is significant because it calls out discriminatory laws that result in LGBTQI people being treated differently, omitted from essential services or being subject to restrictions on how they live their lives, simply because of who they are, what they do or who they love.
Zero Discrimination Day is celebrated annually on 1 March by the United Nations and other international organisations.
It highlights how people can become informed about and promote inclusion, compassion, peace and, above all, a movement for change.
The theme for 2022 is “Remove Laws that Harm, Create Laws that Empower”.
Vulavou says the LGBTQI community in the Pacific, including those who engage in sex-work for a living, are often targeted because of discriminatory laws that deny their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
With an estimated 5.8 million people living with HIV in the region, for the LGBTQI community, HIV and HIV-related stigma and discrimination have become dual epidemics.
“The epidemic continues to disproportionately impact certain members of the LGBTQI community and sex workers, creating gaps and hindering progress in HIV prevention.”
Vulavou says the perception that LGBTQI people and sex workers spread HIV needs to change, as it limits people living with HIV accessing health services.
He has also called on the governments of Cook Islands, Kiribati, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu, who still criminalize sodomy and/or homosexuality, to repeal these harmful laws that legally prescribe punishments for consensual same-sex sexual relations.
“Many Pacific countries still criminalize sex-work or some aspect of sex work, disallow same-sex marriage, do not allow one to legally change their gender or permit same-sex couples to legally adopt a child.
“Such systematic discrimination reinforces the disadvantages experienced by the LGBTQI people and can be used as justification for violence against them, whether on the street, in the community, at home, or in prison.”
He also stated that education providers in the region should become more inclusive, promote diversity, and remove discriminatory norms and practices against LGBTQI students.
At schools and universities, many LGBTQI people continue to face abuse, physical violence, social isolation, humiliation, and death threats that result in feelings of unsafety, missed school days, and reduced chances of academic success.
Vulavou said Pacific leaders should not only talk about the social inclusion of the LGBTQI community, but walk the talk and make meaningful contributions.
“PSGDN calls on the Pacific governments to develop robust legal frameworks and policies that protect LGBTQI people from discrimination in all sectors and our leaders must learn to celebrate diversity and challenge structures and norms that limit the contribution and representation of LGBTQI people in the Pacific.