The recent ILGA World Conference in the New Zealand capital of Wellington was attended by hundreds of delegates from around the world including many from the Pacific region. APCOM’s Executive Director Midnight Poonkasetwattana and Regional Advisory Group Chair Dédé Oteomo joined many representatives from partner organisations including Parker Franck Hou from Papua New Guinea’s Kapul Champions. Parker, a 46 year old gay man from PNG’s Gulf Province, took part in a panel organized by APCOM in collaboration with PSGDN and Haus of Khameleon, which highlighted key issues affecting LGBTI people and people affected by HIV in the Pacific. He was kind enough to provide us with some reflections on his experience of the conference, and also as a panelist representing PNG at the APCOM session.
Tell us a little bit about your organisation and what it does?
Kapul Champions was established in 2010 to combat the high impact of HIV on men who have sex with men (MSM) and trans persons in PNG. We advocate to decriminalize the discriminatory laws which fuel stigma and discrimination in the community and among service providers which result in lack of access to legal and health services for MSM and trans people.
What did you like most about the conference?
I particularly liked the congregating of LGBTIQ+ people from all walks of life and from all around the world to share life stories, to discuss challenges and achievements in advocacy and activism, and to also draw strength from each other. I really enjoyed the interfaith sessions by GIN (Global Interfaith Network) where we shared our stories of growing up in churches as LGBTIQ+ individuals and about what works when we engage with our traditional, cultural and religious leaders.
What are the main issues you highlighted in the APCOM session?
The main issue for us is funding. When the Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) changed their funding focus from HIV to TB and malaria, this caused Kapul Champions to cease delivering our programs to reduce HIV. This loss of service is further compounded by other health and legal services being inaccessible to MSM and trans persons due to ignorance, prejudice and discriminatory legislation. I was also able to highlight a new community consortium that has been created to help in prevent and reduce HIV in seven high prevalence provinces in PNG. The consortium involves Kapul Champions (which works with MSM and trans people), Friends Frangipani (which works with sex workers) and Igat Hope Inc. (which work with people with HIV).
Since the conference was is in Wellington, was there an increased focus on Pacific-related issues?
A central theme for Pacific delegates was the impact of discriminatory laws as well as Christianity which were brought to our region through European colonization and which segregated us in our communities. Another key issue discussed was how Western terms are used to name us rather than names and terms given to us traditionally. Also I would like to quote Ymania Brown who encouraged Pacific delegates to “let us be visible” in the sense that whatever policies are done in our countries, we have to make our presence be felt and ensure we’re included in the response to HIV including on any committees or technical working groups.
Anything else you’d like to say?
In each of our Pacific Island countries, we are not alone in this fight for justice, equality, wellbeing and health. This fight is happening all around the world and we need to network and be in partnership with other LGBTIQ+ organisations and movements around the world to draw strength to fight for our rights as humans.