I was participating in the NXT:15 Young Leaders Conference organized from the 19th of March to the 22nd, through the partnership of the Embassy of the United States of America and the Auckland Pride Festival Inc., together with Unitec Institute of Technology.
The 3-day conference was a learning curve for me and the experience was incredibly amazing. Day one saw the awesome and inspirational award winning designer, filmmaker and playwright, Mr. Welby Ings, facilitating a session on the importance of reviving the use of queer language and terminologies.
This session also shared Mr. Ings’ 2006 Academy Award shortlisted Film “BOY”, which was a very moving story on the culture of silence, which we from Pasifika Island countries can totally relate to. He spoke about the Yogyakarta Principles, and shared his personal story of coming out, the struggles that he went through, and the outcome victories that resulted from his push to get equality for the rainbow community.
The second day saw a vibrancy of influential keynote speakers like David Kilmnick, founder of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youths, from the United States of America, and Andrew Hogenboom, who was a Management Counselor at the US Embassy to New Zealand and who also identifies as gay.
Their personal stories were very liberating and the topics were crucial and inspirational, with the provision of different ideas of countering the issue of homophobia and transphobia in the context of religion and culture, which we are always reluctant to address, and also on how we should all embrace the diversity of gender and sexuality.
Tamani Rarama ( on the left) at the NXT:2015 LGBTIQ Young Leaders Conference held from 19th 22nd March 2015 in Auckland
I represented Fiji LGBTIQ community in a panel on the last day, sharing the experiences from my country, our progress, and how our advocacy and activism differ from Western countries.
The conference ended with a pride parade march on Ponsonby Road in Auckland, which stood out as the highlight of my trip. Unlike in Fiji, we didn’t have to worry about security. It makes me want to work for it, to make it happen in my country, to tackle the hierarchy of the religion and culture, and at the same time to conform to the existing policies.
The conference motivated me to formally register the Rainbow Students Association at the regional university that I currently attend, University of the South Pacific – USP. This would help us mobilize young LGBTIQA USP students together with the support of our ally friends and families who also fight for our cause.
The conference also boosted my confidence level in terms of asking and responding to critical issues and at the same time, helped me advocate in a more proactive and sustainable way while treading over the fine lines of culture and religion.
There is also a need for Fiji to have a support services organization that is specifically rendered to the LGBTIQA community, a safe space for those who still hide their sexuality, to open up and get medical and therapeutic assistance.
I would like to recommend the US Embassy in Fiji, together with LGBTIQ organizations to push forward the agenda of having a similar kind of conference here in Fiji. I also recommend them to fund programs to strengthen capacity of our young activists and advocates.
Tamani Rarama – Youth Voices Count Member – Fiji