While the smallest unit in Tonga is the family, this way of living can be seen in the wider community. Our stratified society largely operates in collective groups; whether as an extended family, village community, church congregation or college alumni. These particular groupings help to define who we are, and where we come from. Cultural norms such as respect for elders and taboos in our society hold us together and although intended to benefit all of us, the bitter reality is that it can limit people from feeling free to express themselves as they truly are. Our oneness is achieved by individuals who come together to play their part in the ecosystem that is Tonga. Individuals who each have their own story and hold their own rights.
Last week, I was invited by the Tonga Leiti’s Association to join their judging panel for the annual Miss Galaxy Queen Pageant. Tonga’s LGBTQIA community has utilised this platform for 26 years to:
i) Showcase the talent of Tonga’s leiti community;
ii) Advocate on issues in an effort to further their community’s rights;
iii) Provide support and resources to LGBTQIA (including scholarships); and
iv) Emphasise the importance of good health and wellbeing within their group.
This years pageant took place from Wednesday, July 17 to Thursday, July 18 with a theme celebrating the different “fragrances” of the diversity that manifests in our Kingdom.
The push by various advocacy groups and communities in our country for recognition and legal rights is seen by many as foreign interference on issues we must face as a nation alone. One of the reasons for this is that serving the few rather than the collective, can be perceived as breaking the harmony between our people. What we fail to realise here is that, these different groups advocating for their rights, are only eager to play their part in our society. If we continue to discriminate against their contribution to our ecosystem, we live in a facade. The very reason why our smallest unit is the family, and not the individual, is to ensure that nobody is left behind. Over the years however, some have been left to fend for their freedom to exist, often picking up the slack and reminding us of their place in our world too.
The term “LGBTQIA” alone is met with general disregard and often awkwardness. Growing up, I was never allowed to attend the Miss Galaxy because it was dismissed as “unChristian”. Unfortunately, the majority of our population will agree to this. This year alone our people have condemned the LGBTQIA community in masses to defend a multi-millionaire athlete who was sacked for breaching his contract with his social media hate posts of this community. Due to our own misjudgments, we are failing a large and important populace in our nation. Let’s take a verse from the Bible. Romans 14:10 reads “So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgement seat of God.”
I am still a Christian. My decision to join the Miss Galaxy judging panel was not an act of rebellion but one of love, compassion and acceptance. This is what I believe the Christian faith is really about, and what being Tongan means. The contest is a beautiful demonstration of the huge contribution this community makes to our society. Each contestant presented on a particular cause they felt passionate about, for example one contestant focused on their efforts for youth while others on a ‘No Hate Policy’. From my experience as a judge, I learned that each cause was not limited to the LGBTQIA group, but in favour of all groups. It is this approach that shows us what truly makes us one. With the displayed skill and talent in their performances and masterpieces aside, the events overall management and execution is one other’s can take inspiration from as well. This community demonstrate everyday how they are an essential part of our nation, and they deserve far better treatment than they receive.
Moving forward, let us remember that our culture is one rooted in respect, inclusion and love for our people. We must support and encourage each other and celebrate our differences, this is where our strengths lie. The varying qualities of our people is what makes us unique and should be recognized as a blessing. Each has their own purpose and together we function as the body of our country.