Film helping change attitudes about homosexuality in PNG

The Papua New Guinea Human Rights Film Festival is moving across the country, telling the stories of those oppressed in PNG and across the Pacific.

One film being featured tells the story of Hanuabada village, a haven for gay and transgender people living in Port Moresby.

Homosexuality is illegal in PNG, but the large community at Hanuabada live openly and protect each other from harm.

The film is being used as a springboard for local discussion about gay rights in PNG.

Presenter: Natalie Tencic

Speaker: Vlad Sokhin, documentary filmmaker and photgrapher; Haraga, villager from Hanuabada

Tencic: The sleepy coastal village of Hanuabada on the outskirts of Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, is probably best known for producing half of PNG’s national cricket team and a few gold-medal weightlifters. What it’s less known for is being a safe haven for Port Moresby’s gay and transgender community. Vlad Sokhin is a documentary filmmaker and photographer who stumbled on Hanuabada while working in the country.

Vlad: I was just working on a story about this village because it’s very visually interesting for me as a photographer and that’s how I met local gay people. When I saw them, we started to talk and they became my friends and I said, why don’t I do a story about them?

Tencic: As he got to know the gay and transgender people of Hanuabada, he learned that it was a safe space where people live openly, without fear of retaliation from locals and that people travel from afar to move to the relative safety of Hanuabada.

Vlad: That’s probably the only place in Port Moresby where they feel safe and many of them. They were born in different places so they moved to Hanuabada village because they are accepted by the local community there. You can see many of them walking in the streets in Hanuabada and they, transgender people, they don’t hide, they can wear women’s clothes there so no one, you know kids still chase them and call them names but at least they don’t experience physical violence in the village which is quite common in Port Moresby. I heard about many cases where gay and transgender people were raped or were beaten and sometimes it was even by the police, so they feel safe in Hanuabada.

Tencic: Homosexuality is illegal in Papua New Guinea, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Most LGBT people living in Port Moresby fear for their lives, as they suffer threats and violent attacks from civilians. One of the villagers Vlad interviewed was Haraga, known as Speedy. He is among the men who risk their lives venturing outside the safety of Hanuabada to attend gay club nights in the city.

Speedy: When we are out of the village, going to clubs out in clubbing, after parties, when we’re stranded of transport when they’re walking. They come to a place where it’s a risk, most of them are hurt and killed because of what they are doing here in Papua New Guinea. It’s a risk for us, when you’re in public like, they have to be strong person, strong guy. When we’re in the club, well, it’s a gay club so we have to act like a gay, but when we are outside of the club we have to be a strong guy to protect ourselves.

Tencic: Vlad’s film Guavas and Bananas is being screened as part of the PNG Human Rights Film Festival, which tours around the country to huge audiences. He says with the success of the film, he’s seeing attitudes starting to change.

Vlad: On the Facebook page of the festival, they posted a photo of a man who they interviewed and he said before he didn’t really appreciate. He didn’t like transgender and gay people. But after seeing the film, he changed his opinion, so I think we should talk about these things, we should talk more openly. I know this is still a taboo in Papua New Guinean society but the more we talk about it, it would change things I think.

Tencic: In the film, Speedy sings a song called ‘Guavas and Bananas’, it’s a little cheeky, but he’s hearing it repeated all over.

Speedy: I love that kind of video, or something that can change people in PNG . Vlad inboxed me about the ladies and guys singing ‘Watermelon, Watermelon’. I was so happy, and I love that, I love people singing that song to everybody so that Papua New Guinea can be chan ged and they can respect us.

Tencic: Vlad says there’s been an overwhelming fear among PNG’s LGBT community of speaking out, but with wide exposure from his film, he hopes to see that change.

Vlad: For many years they had been trying to hide who they are but it’s time to open up so most of them, now they want to speak. They want to change the law and they want that they would be respected and treated equally with the other citizens of Papua New Guinea.

Speedy: I’lI want Papua New Guinea government to make something for gay people in Papua New Guinea so we can move freely in PNG because most of our gay friends are being killed and murdered by most of the Papua New Guineans. Let us free, give us freedom to live free and move freely.

Source – Radio Australia