Te Tiare Association
24 July 2017 9.15am
AT THE PARLIAMENT HOUSE
AUDIENCE with the Select Committee on the Amendment to the Crimes Act 1969
Kia Orana tatou katoatoa I te aroa maata o te Atua. To our Honorary Chairman/Madame Chair, our Honorary select committee and everyone present here today, Kia Orana. It is an honour to speak before you today and I thank you for the opportunity.
My name is Tatryanna Louis Teokotai Ngariki Utanga and I am a transgender woman of colour. Transgender – Identifying with the gender opposite to my own biological sex. Simply put, I was born a boy and now I am a girl. I was born and raised here on Rarotonga from the village of Ruatonga. My parents are Terry and Ake Utanga and I have 2 wonderful siblings. I received my primary and secondary education here on Rarotonga and can testify that we have an outstanding level of educational teaching because we educate, teach moral values and personal discipline. I attended mass every Sunday, as was required for my spiritual development, and was actively involved in community events.
As I grew up I challenged myself to participate in both sporting and cultural activities to try to receive the most out of life. As a young teenager I endured the pressures of remaining at the top of the social ladder and as a result fell harder than most. I was full of ambition and was determined to make my ordinary life extraordinary. The world was my stage, and I was ready to take the mic. Ladies, gentlemen and other genders, the picture that I have just painted belongs to a young Cook Islander who pretty much grew up the same as everyone else. The only thing different is that I was LGbT. L-G-b-T. An acronym that up until my adolescent youth had no impact on my life. At this point I fully realized that I was different. I realized that my interests were not the same as other boys. One obvious fact was that I was attracted to them. I realized that my interests were very similar, if not directly aligned to other girls.
Another obvious fact, I wanted to be one. I realized that there was a growing voice inside of me telling me to be who I am. Telling me to be strong and to be different. I tried and tried so hard to suppress these feelings, thoughts and emotions because I knew for a fact that it was not acceptable not only in my community but also in my home. LGbT – an unspoken truth that existed and still exists today! An issue that is long ignored but once it is spoken, we are quick to judge and throw stones at it. Why is it that we are “socially” accepted and yet I am standing here today fighting for that very acceptance? – Why so suddenly is my LGbT community under so much fire when moments ago, it was ok that we raised your children, It was ok that we glamourized your events and dressed you up to look great. We have LGbT people who’ve established careers and businesses, Who’ve exceptional community backgrounds that far outshine some heterosexual individuals. But we are still under microscopic scrutiny because of who we are and who we love!
I moved to NZ in 2009 to pursue tertiary education and find a purpose in life. Like I mentioned earlier, the world was my stage and I was ready to take the mic. I had a plan, but little did I know that life had other plans for me. I was thrown into a world full of endless possibilities and of course temptation. It was this move that I began my journey as Tatryana.
I felt a sense of belonging because people were able to be themselves and not worry so much as to what others thought! I was able to release the voice inside of me telling me to be myself. Thanks to the way I was brought up, I navigated through this part of my life with honesty, humility and intelligence. Living an open life that is heavily stigmatized and discriminated against I had to always alert and careful with what I said and what I did. Although it was accepted, I also understood that not everyone saw the beauty in something that was different.
In 2010 I began an all transgender or akavaine dance group called the Diamonds of Paradise. Using our Cook Islands and Pacific cultures we began our entertainment group as a way of coming together to find family, friends, and love and for some, SHELTER! We travelled all over New Zealand and across the globe sharing our talent to everyone. Sharing memorable moments and fostering relationships that would last a life time. However, aside from the Glitz, Glam and Spotlight I knew that I had to do more to take care of the emotional and psychological needs of my brothers and sisters. You see, although we came from different ethnic backgrounds, we shared the same stories and experiences of hardship, discrimination and stigma. Life was fabulous and at the same time frightening!
I joined many different groups and organisations to further extend my knowledge of what it meant to Be LGBT on a regional and global level. It was through these that I decided that I wanted to advocate not only for my group the Diamonds of Paradise out for my Cook Islands LGBT community as a whole. A few months ago I was placed in a similar setting like today, out instead of speaking on making the first steps of legislation reform, I spoke in celebration of New Zealand’s 30 year anniversary of the homosexuality law reform! I was chosen as their Youth representative speaker, giving my story on how this change has positively impacted my life as a young Trans woman.
How fitting now does it seem that I should also speak before you, convincing you the importance of changing a law that directly disadvantages LGT people living in our Paradise. Is it fair that we restrict the rights of some to appease the Beliefs of others? Let’s think about that! I would like to share with you a personal story on a conversation that I had with my best friend. She who I won’t name is a young heterosexual or straight Cook Island woman. She asked me, Tatryanna, why don’t you stay in Raro, get a job and live here again. I can give you a position because I know you can do the work and you’ll be closer to your family and friends. Raro is where it’s happening right now and you should be here! You’re mostly in Raro anyway on holiday! I thought about her question out it did not take me long to respond. I said, my friend I already know that Raro is the place to be right now, there are so many opportunities that I really want to e a part of.
Aside from getting my degree there’s just one other thing that keeps me away and attracts me to where I am now – and that is the possibility of love – companionship. Life is about fulfilling every aspect of it and if I don’t find it where I am now, I fear that I will never when I return. Raro still thinks that being gay or trans is ad so I cannot put myself through more pain on top of what I am already going through just y being who I am. She looked at me and agreed! – Do you? My friends, changing this law is not just about a law. It is not about giving us more privileges over others. It certainly isn’t about marriage equality. It is about giving one individual an equal chance to exist in our society the same as the other. It is largely about changing mind-sets of our people to understand and accept everyone equally despite their gender identity or sexual orientation.
It is about LOVE and ACCEPTANCE. Mind-sets and change begin with a single seed, e the first to plant that seed so that those who come after us will benefit from the change that we make today. By abolishing these anti-homosexuality laws you not only open doors for wonderful possibilities out also close other doors on hate and discrimination. Everyone has a right to exist, so why must existing e harder for some?! Make a change so that we can improve the lives of every Cook Islander. Make a change so that our future LGT generation can live freely. Make a change so that in 30 years’ time another young person can speak on the Celebration on homosexuality Law reform not in New Zealand, out here in own country of the Cook Islands.
Make a change so that we can keep our people here and ring our people overseas back home. be the first to mark today as a stepping stone towards change. ! A change that will ring others like me home, to live as we are and love who we want – equally!
Thank you and kia orana!