An institute for critical education in the South Pacific

A ʻAtenisi picture

Meʻelaufola (2008)

May 2017 – Former MP Recognised for Defending LGBT Rights, Founding Tonga Leitis Association

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Institute director Sisi'uno Helu awards former MP Papiloa Bloomfield Foliaki an honorary diploma in human rights.

On May Day, 'Atenisi acknowledged the contribution of former MP Papiloa Bloomfield Foliaki, the first woman commoner elected to Tonga's Legislative Assembly, by awarding her an honorary degree in human rights for her efforts in founding the Tonga Leitis Association in 1985. With Foliaki as initial president, TLA went on to champion the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gender citizens of the Kingdom.

Foliaki, now in her early 80s, recounted how her husband – a prominent physician who directed the government's healthcare system – told his wife she was the only politician in the Kingdom with the courage to defend gay people. Foliaki herself is a heterosexual mother of five children.

Prior to the award ceremony, TLA's new president, Henry 'Aho, delivered a poignant address on the plight of LGBT people in Tonga. He described chilling acts of family violence, the absence of police protection, bullying in the schoolyards, and exclusion by some evangelical churches. He concluded by emphasising that the first step towards tolerance was decriminalising gay behaviour, even though laws proscribing it have rarely been enforced.

Listen to the address: