The Pacific Sexual and Gender Diversity Network calls on every Pacific islander to join the fight for full equality for all transgender people in the region. That’s the message from PSGDN Chief Executive Officer Isikeli Vulavou as we mark the International Transgender Day of Visibility today.
Vulavou said the day recognises the challenges transgender people face in their daily lives, and honors and celebrates the achievements and resiliency of transgender individuals and communities.
The CEO said the trailblazing work of transgender individuals in Fiji and the region, and their huge contribution to the Pacific society is noteworthy and deserves the highest accolades.
“We are fully aware of your generations of struggle, but at the same time, proud of your work and willpower to be living openly and authentically today,” Vulavou said.
The CEO outlined that in the face of seemingly relentless attacks, transgender and non-binary people are more visible than ever before.
“While the day is also a chance to reflect on the fact that there is still a long way to go to erase discrimination and transphobia everywhere, including here at home, transgender and gender non-conforming people remain one of the most marginalised communities in the region today.
“Gender non-conformity is still used in many Pacific countries as an excuse for harassment, violence and even murder of transgender people.
“In Fiji and the region, the vulnerability of transgender women to different types of violence is strongly connected to the challenges in receiving education, finding employment, lack of support networks and consequently, the need to engage in commercial sex work, which is criminalised and extremely stigmatised in many Pacific countries.”
Vulavou said despite all their contributions at home, in church, at work and in the communities, transgender individuals continue to be attacked, discriminated and stigmatised when it comes to their sexuality and how they choose to live their own lives.
“Transgender individuals are a blessing in whichever social space they occupy, they are leading choir groups, operating their own businesses, demonstrate unmatched talents in creative, performing and visual arts, are leaders in the hospitality industry, work as medical professionals, hold senior positions in the civil service, and are involved in unpaid care work at home.
“Despite all their efforts and hard work, their contributions are never spotlighted or discounted and they are often sidetracked and disrespected when it comes to decision making and their sexual orientation becomes a barrier to living a free and fair life.”
The CEO said in Fiji and the region, hate crimes and proliferation of anti-trans violence – aided and abetted by the advancements in digital spaces and lack of robust state-enforced laws and policies to protect the rights of people online is cause for alarm – and action.
“Lack of access to healthcare, employment, housing, education, and justice, as well as stigmatisation and persecution, are just some of the results of the inaction of societies that do little or nothing to protect trans and gender-diverse people.
“We are aware that there is a lot of pressure on trans and non-binary people to conform, change and prove their gender to others.”
Vulavou said all transgender people, regardless of identity, expression, or orientation, are enough just as they are.
On this day, the CEO has called on every Pacific islander to learn more about transgender individuals and communities and their lives.
“We need to treat transgender people with love, respect and dignity and we all have a responsibility to seek diversity, value equity, and embrace inclusion – whether in the workplace, community, government or industry.”
Vulavou has demanded Pacific leaders to protect the human rights and social justice of transgender individuals and legally recognise it as a separate gender and encouraged all transgender people in Fiji and the region to celebrate who they are.