Friday, 4 December 2015

Love Life Fono: Conversation, community and diversity

The Love Life Fono kicks off this evening, marking it’s 10th anniversary of celebrating, supporting and advocating for gender and sexually diverse Pacific communities in New Zealand and the broader Pacific region. We chat to member of the organising committee, Tim Baice, about his Love Life Fono journey and the importance of community discussion.
“I first heard of the Love Life Fono in 2013 through some colleagues and was immediately drawn by the theme 'Voices of the Third Spirit' which to me presented a unique opportunity to meet with other members of the Rainbow Pacific community, and to listen to their stories and share our experiences,” says Tim who has been responsible for the International strand and the Education strand of the workshops which take place on Friday.

Liaising with participants from across the region who are engaged in similar advocacy work from a variety of organisations Tim says he has been deliberate in attempting to connect what is currently happening across the region to what is a currently happening in New Zealand. “In particular connecting to current discussions on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals across the world.”

Tim says Love life Fono provides an opportunity for a conversation that would otherwise take place in isolated spaces and different silos. “This is a bringing together of a diverse and often misunderstood members of the Rainbow Pacific community, wherever they may or may not find themselves on the LGBTQUI spectrum or alternatively on the MVPAFF.

“We know that Pacific youth have the highest rates of youth suicide and often issues of identity (whether cultural, gender or sex/sexuality) are often attributed causes. 

“The Fono is a space where health/education/social sector organisations focused on raising awareness, and supporting Rainbow Pacific people's which creates a safe and enabling space for younger members to have access to key health/ sexual health/social services. Because of the vastness of the community the Fono is a great example of the intergenerational equity as well as intergender solidarity, where young people are mentored by older peers, and older peers learn and are in touch with the younger generations within the rainbow Pacific community.” 

With a significant amount of thinking and planning going into the development of the Love life Fono, Tim says that the great thing about the organising committee is that they are all from different professional and community backgrounds. 

“What unites us are our Pacific cultures and our common commitment to supporting and advancing our communities,” he says.

“Our working contributions to this Fono have been informed by these diverse professional and community backgrounds, for example in negotiating the theme/ programme for this year's Fono we brainstormed as an organising committee and then allowed community members through the various organisations we are associated with to provide feedback. In addition, a Cultural Custodians Council was formed comprised of senior Pacific community leaders who have had previous involvement in the Fono, or are working in spaces directly linked to this work such as the Member of Parliament for Manurewa Ms Louisa Wall, and Siaosi Mulipola of Village Collective. 

“The organising committee met with the CCC in late October, and the feedback received on our ideas was generally positive, and focused specifically on how we could draw some actionable outcome statements at the end of the Fono, something the Committee had already pre-empted.”

While Tim acknowledges community support as instrumental to the work done by the committee he says it is also important to note that communities are diverse and varied. “They are not homogenous social groupings and this is important to understand when working across different sectors/ and groupings within communities.

“Families, Schools, Churches etc that make up ones local community are important sties for individuals to navigate and negotiate their identities and roles, and it is important that we continue to ensure that these spaces are safe and empowering for them.”

Tim says across the Pacific region there are common areas that need to be highlighted and discussed in relation to LGBTI people’s rights and well-being.

“Discrimination and access in the spaces of employment and education and the need to create safe and empowering spaces is important,” he says. “For our trans community this has been a particular issue, but more broadly in schools being able to create safe, accepting and empowering environments which requires us all to continue working with schools, churches and families.

“For others, law reform is needed in Pacific countries where same sex relationships and self identifying as gay is still illegal.” 

He says it is important to highlight "the freedom and power of being able to self identify."

Published online 3 December 2015 via:

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