June is Pride month, with yellow coloured flags hoisted in many places to signify the recognition and rights given to the LGBTQI community throughout the world.
While the equal rights given to the community are being recognized, 71 countries still criminalise homosexuality and of these, seven are in the Pacific.
Thirty-five of these countries are part of the Commonwealth, suggesting that the criminalisation of homosexuality may be a legacy of the British Empire.
In the Pacific, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu still have laws that criminalise homosexuality.
In 2010, Fiji became the first nation in the Pacific to decriminalise homosexuality as it made sweeping changes to the laws governing crime.
Jail terms in these Pacific nations range from five to 14 years. Much of the law has to do with sodomy and there is emphasis on unnatural offences.
In Kiribati even the person allowing the act is liable for a prison term of up to 14 years.
Section 155 of Kiribati’s criminal act says: “Any male person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with him, or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any male person with himself or with another male person, whether in public or private, shall be guilty of a felony, and shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.”
According to Papua New Guinea’s Criminal Code of 1974, Section 210, under Unnatural Offences, a person who sexually penetrates any person against the order of nature; or sexually penetrates an animal; or permits a male person to sexually penetrate him or her against the order of nature, is guilty of a crime.
In Samoa the concept of ‘Faʻafafine’ – where males assume transgender roles – is culturally accepted, but homosexuality remains a criminal offence.
The Pacific Sexual and Gender Diversity Network chief executive officer Isikeli Vulavou said LGBTQI individuals continue to face violence, exclusion and discrimination on a daily basis in the Pacific, because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity or sex characteristics, with many countries still retaining harsher punishments and jail terms for homosexuality.
“We are again strongly urging the parliaments and the people of Cook Islands, Kiribati, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu to decriminalise LGBTQI people in their respective countries,” he said.
“They are not criminals, they actively contribute to community and nation building and are a significant part of our culture, families, communities and Pacific societies.”
Vulavou said the COVID-19 pandemic has led to even higher levels of violence and discrimination, including domestic violence, hate speech online and offline, and hate crimes against the LGBTQI community in the Pacific.
He said discriminatory laws, policies and practices, including the criminalisation of consenting same-sex relations that expose LGBTQI individuals disproportionally to unemployment, social exclusion and poverty, are fought against on a daily basis in the Pacific.
Vulavou said over the years there has been a rise in divisive and hateful rhetoric in election campaigns and public discourse, with the LGBTQI communities being scapegoated and attacked by politicians who are out of touch from day-to-day realities.