Samoa News & Reports

1 Redefining Fa’afafine 8/01 (academic research)

2 Bad-Assed Honeys with a Difference 8/01

3 Fa’afafine – Samoan boys brought up as girls’ 2005

4 Samoa will change suggested rule that banned 7/07

5 Retract Gay Sex Ban; Also, Samoa’s Trans Tradition…7/07

6 Samoa bans gay rights movie ‘Milk’ 4/09

7 Obama to Name Openly Gay Ambassador 10/09

8 Gay students band together 9/10

9 Decriminalizing Homosexuality–first step to establish equality 10/11

ABC Interview with Brian Fuata, a Samoan-born actor who has written and portrays all the characters in a theatre performance titled FA’AFAFIN: (The play is about my experiences as a gay man in Australia and also a gay Samoan man in Australia.)

August 2001 – Intersections, Issue 6, August 2001

Redefining Fa’afafine: Western Discourses and the Construction of Transgenderism in Samoa
(academic research)

by J. Schmidt
The Samoan word fa’afafine literally translates as ‘in the manner of a woman’. Fa’afafine are biological males who express feminine gender identities in a range of ways. In this research article, I argue that fa’afafine are both viewed through the lens of and influenced by Western understandings of sexuality. This argument is based on the analysis of various representations of fa’afafine and discusses the impact of Western discourses of gender and sexuality have had on fa’afafine identities.

I spent a total of three months in Samoa, mostly in the capital, Apia, during which time I conducted semi-structured interviews with half a dozen fa’afafine, attended various performances, engaged in discussions about fa’afafine with a range of people, and familiarised myself with Samoan culture and society in general. While this was an education and enjoyable time, conducting fieldwork also to fa’afafine in Samoa was trying and at times daunting. As well as the fear of ‘straight’ Samoans regarding Samoa’s supposed image as a ‘gay paradise’, I was regularly faced with concern from fa’afafine about how they had been and would be represented.

While this has caused some dilemmas for me in terms of whose interests I would reflect, these conflicting perspectives have also allowed me to better understand Samoa’s position within the global flow of texts and discourses. In this paper, I consider the processes by which fa’afafine have been represented in terms of Western comprehensions of gender and, especially, sexuality, and consider how these and other discourses have in turn contributed to the way in which Samoans in general and fa’afafine in particular come to understand, enact, and replicate what it means to be fa’afafine.

See the complete research article at:

August 2001 – Intersections, Issue 6, August 2001

Bad-Assed Honeys with a Difference: South Auckland Fa’afafine Talk about Identity

by Heather Worth
The fa’afafine who I will refer to in this paper: Fenella, Helen, Jasmine, Lionel, Louella, Pandora, Penny and Rhonda, all think of themselves in ways which are inimical (contrary) to a Western view that we must be one sex or the other, or that we must choose a stable identity for ourselves. Their curious ability to eschew (avoid) gender and sexual identity as stable hegemonic categories; their refusal to disallow multiple genders and sexual identities at the same time and in the same body is theoretically very important, because they are a powerful, empirical critique of the very categories which scholars have held as central to the feminist enterprise for many years now. But at the same time, their belief in identities (sexual and gender) as central to their sense of self reflects fa’afafine’s inculcation into Western discourses of individuality, as well as in a globalised ‘queer’ culture.

See the complete research article at:

2005 – Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Fa’afafine – Samoan boys brought up as girls’

"When I was young, my parents looked at me and the way I am…and they think, Oh Hazy, she must be not a boy, but something else. And then, they never accuse me…they really accept me. They understand what I am, in my body." Living alone in a tiny house just outside the Savai’i village of Alaolemativa, Hazy Pau Talauati is a Samoan man who dresses and lives as a woman. She is a fa’afafine. Like most fa’afafine in Samoa – and there are a few in most villages – Hazy is an accepted member of the community, valued for the work she does.

Samoa’s social acceptance of fa’afafine has evolved from the tradition of raising some boys as girls. These boys, were not necessarily homosexual, or noticeably effeminate, and they may never have felt like dressing as women. They became transvestites because they were born into families that had plenty of boys and not enough girls. In families of all male children (or where the only daughter was too young to assist with the ‘women’s’ work), parents would often choose one or more of their sons to help the mother. Because these boys would perform tasks that were strictly the work of women they were raised as if they were female. Although their true gender was widely known, they would usually be dressed as girls. As they grew older, their duties would not change. They would continue performing ‘women’s’ work, even if they eventually married (which would be to a woman).

Modern fa’afafine differ in two fundamental ways from their traditional counterparts. First, they are more likely to have chosen to live as women, and, secondly, they are more likely to be homosexual.
These days, young Samoan boys who appear effeminate, or enjoy dressing as girls, may be recognised as fa’afafine by their parents. If they are, they will usually be neither encouraged nor discouraged to dress and behave as women. They will simply be allowed to follow the path they choose. If it becomes apparent that a boy wants to become a fa’afafine, he will be taught the duties and crafts of women. Coupling those skills with the strengths of Samoan men can make a fa’afafine an extremely valuable member of society.

Hazy: "I think there’s a little bit difference between fa’afafine here in Samoa and overseas, because here the fa’afafine can help the mother [by] doing the same job… and they can do the men’s job as well. I think that’s why the fa’afafine here are so popular, because they are hard working people." Along with their hard work, modern fa’afafine are known for their good works. Samoan fa’afafine, for example, run an annual transvestite beauty pageant, the proceeds of which are donated to charities which support the elderly and the disabled. For these sorts of contributions to the community, some fa’afafine have been awarded customary titles.

Hazy: "When they see me…everybody, from the west to the east, even the children… they yell out, "Hazy! Hazy!" They call my name. So I ask my friends, "If I go on the ballot for an MP, I’m sure that I’m going to win…"[LAUGHS]’ (Fa’afafine are known by different names in different parts of Polynesia. In Tonga they are called fakaleiti and in French Polynesia, they are rae rae or mahu.)

Other references:

-Besnier, Niko. 1994. Polynesian Gender Liminality Through Time and Space. In Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History. Gilbert Herdt, ed. Pp. 285-328. New York: Zone.
-Mageo, Jeannette M. 1992. Male transvestism and cultural change in Samoa. American Ethnologist 19: 443-459.
-Mageo, Jeannette M. 1996. Samoa, on the Wilde Side: Male Transvestism, Oscar Wilde, and Liminality in Making Gender. Ethos 24(4):588-627.

-Johanna Schmidt: Paradise Lost? Social Change and Fa’afafine in Samoa;

-ABC Interview with Brian Fuata, a Samoan-born actor who has written and portrays all the characters in a theatre performance titled FA’AFAFIN:

18th July 2007

Samoa will change suggested rule that banned gay and lesbian competitors from having sex.

by writer
The organisers of a major sporting event in Samoa have said they will change guidance that banned gay and lesbian competitors from having sex. The rules, published by Samoa team managers yesterday, apply only to Samoan athletes competing in the Pacific Games, a multi-sport event held later this year. The organising committee moved quickly to reject the rules and order changes.

The Samoa National Olympic Committee president and organising committee chairman, Tapasu Leung Wai, told Radio Australia that the gay sex ban was not endorsed by the committee. " I regret that it appeared that gay people were being singled out in the draft instructions," he said. " Team managers agreed yesterday that the reference be deleted." The original rules were published in a Samoan newspaper, and were designed to stop athletes "embarassing" the country. Samoa will play host to 5,000 people from more than twenty countries in August and September. The Pacific Games are held every four years. The two week 2007 Games in Apia in Samoa are the 13th to be held. Countries from around the region compete in a range of sports from archery to wrestling.

July 2007 – From: Queerty

Retract Gay Sex Ban; Also, Samoa’s Trans Tradition…

Samoan officials are pumped for the forthcoming South Pacific Games. They aren’t pumped, however, about the prospect of gay gamers getting it on – at least they weren’t until the gamers called them out for being homo-haters. The pacific nation’s sports officials published a set of rules yesterday, including a prohibition on same sex love. "Athletes are advised that they should not embarrass themselves, their families and the country." A memo says homosexual activities are against the law of God.

Most people scoffed at the directive, leading Samoa National Olympic Committee president Tapasu Leung Wai to do a revoke the repulsive rules: "I regret that it appeared that gay people were being singled out in the draft instruction. Team managers agreed yesterday that the reference be deleted. Now everyone can play for the same team!"

Radio Australia explains that the decision comes as Samoans open their hearts to “fa’afafine”: men who dress as women when their family lacks the feminine touch in families of all male children, or where the daughters are too young to assist with so-called women’s work, parents choose one or more of their sons to help the mother. Because the boys perform the ‘work of women’ they are raised as if they are female. Although their gender is widely known, they will usually dress as girls. As they age, their duties do not change and they continue with women’s work even if they marry – usually to a woman.

In light of Samoa’s social history, Leung Way reiterated that the rules weren’t meant to be discriminatory, “[The way] we are brought up, there is no hard feelings against anybody, we treat everybody as equal.” Except for that whole “women’s work” thing, of course. Seriously – they’ve created an entire social mechanism to ensure “manly” men don’t have to get on their knees and scrub. Sure, it’s cool that they’re cool with fa’afafine, but does it strike anyone else as a bit disingenuous? Maybe we’re just cynical…

April 09, 2009 – The New Zealand Herald

Samoa bans gay rights movie ‘Milk’

by Cherelle Jackson
Apia – In yet another controversial move by the Samoa Censor Board, the movie Milk based on the life of gay activist Harvey Milk has been banned from Samoa. The movie was rejected by the Censorship Board two weeks ago after it was presented by one of the local movie stores for the board’s approval and rating. Principal Censor Leiataua Niuapu Faaui confirmed the board had rejected an application for the movie to be distributed in movie stores in Samoa.

Asked for the reasons behind their rejection of the movie, Leiataua declined to comment saying he needed the approval of the Censorship Board chairman to comment. "There are rules and guidelines for these things," Leiataua said. Eteuati Junior Esau, General Manager of Movies4U, the largest chain of movie stores in the country, expressed his disappointment at the decision. "I really just want a reason why, because my customers are demanding this movie," Esau said.

An average of 20 people, request the movie Milk on a daily basis from Movies4U stores around Upolu. Esau says he does not understand why the movie is banned, as it has had great reviews, has won numerous awards and is based on a true story. "I was expecting some good sales from that movie," Esau said. He is not the only one disappointed.

Ken Moala, a well known Human Rights Activist in Samoa, says the banning of the movie is uncalled for. "I do not think it should be banned. It is basically a documentary about the human endeavour to conquer something that people tend to discriminate against," Moala said. "It’s really harmless, I don’t know how it would affect Samoan lifestyle. It is totally different and not applicable to here, it is pretty tame really."

Moala, who is well known for his work with minority groups in the Pacific, says the film is about human rights and the struggle to attain everyone’s inalienable rights to leadership and lifestyle preferences. "It’s is about vulnerable groups, how they are often marginalised, and they have every right to be part of society, especially in becoming public servants or figure heads in society. Quite frankly I do not see how it is relevant to the Samoa situation. As a film I think it is quite good, and pretty harmless. I don’t know the reasons why they would do that, are they making a statement against the gay organisations? Or what?"

Moala says sometimes the Censorship Board does censor the wrong movies. "Some of the movies that have been here are violent and horrific. When it comes to documentaries like this, I think it is all about the human story as opposed to the slaughter that goes on in some of these movies," Moala said.

Principle Censor, Leiataua says he is willing to comment on the matter pending approval from his superior, but the decision to ban Milk is final in Samoa. Some movie stores still feature the Milk poster in their windows but do not offer it to the public.

October 7, 2009 – The New York Times

Obama to Name Openly Gay Ambassador

by Sheryl Gay Stolberg
President Obama plans to name an openly gay lawyer to serve as his ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, administration officials said Wednesday evening. If confirmed by the Senate, the lawyer, David Huebner, would become the first openly gay ambassador in the Obama administration.

Mr. Huebner is the general counsel for a gay rights organization, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. His nomination is timed to coincide with a speech Mr. Obama is giving Saturday night to the Human Rights Campaign, which also advocates equal rights for gays.

Mr. Obama is facing continuing criticism from gay leaders that he is not living up to his campaign promises, including repealing the Clinton-era “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’’ policy, which bars openly gay people from serving in the military. The president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters on Wednesday that the president is ‘’intent on making progress’’ on the issue.

September 29, 2010 – The Fiji Times

Gay students band together

– The University of the South Pacific (USP) ( is a public university with a number of locations spread throughout a dozen countries in Oceania. It is an international centre for teaching and research on Pacific culture and environment. USP’s academic programmes are recognised worldwide, attracting students and staff from throughout the Pacific Region and internationally. USP is owned by the governments of 12 Pacific Island countries: the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.-GG

by Tavai Bale
A Support group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans-genders has been formed at the University of the South Pacific.
The ‘Drodrolagi’ (Fijian word for rainbow which is the international symbol for gay, lesbian and bisexual pride) Movement had its first meeting on Monday afternoon with a good turnout of students and supporters both queer and straight.

Coordinator and avid GLBT activist, Kris Prasad said he was inspired by the work of the Drodrolagi Association that was set up in 1997 and wanted to mirror their initiative in providing a safe environment and support structure for queer students and raise awareness at USP. When asked about the risks of marginalisation and alienation of students that might intend to join Drodrolagi Movement, Kris expressed concern. "Safety is paramount for us. We want students to be comfortable in their own skin, and joining the movement is totally voluntary."

Students present at the meeting expressed their excitement with the Movement. Members of the gay community in Suva shared similar sentiments, saluting the efforts of young activists such as Kris Prasad in creating awareness and establishing safe spaces for queer students in such an impressionable institution as USP. Reigning Miss Senikau, Rani Ravudi, a strong advocate for gay rights and equality, said "this would be the stepping stone for GLBT students on campus to help eradicate homophobia and other issues they face". Rani also stressed the importance of HIV and health awareness.

Also present at the meeting was 2010 Hibiscus contestant, Miss Youth Coalition, Paulini Saurogo and the Young Women’s Officer from the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Filomena Tuivanualevu. Both women, being former students, worried about opposition to the idea, but were positive about the movement’s objectives ¡¡¡¡ù pledging their support for future events and activities.

October 11, 2011 – Office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

Decriminalizing Homosexuality–first step to establish equality

Op-ed by Matilda Bogner
Decriminalizing homosexuality is an essential first step towards establishing genuine equality before the law

Calls for truly universal application of human rights have been gathering momentum at the global level. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon have both called for measures to counter discrimination and violence against those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI). Last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched an appeal for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality and for every country to ensure equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said, is just that. It is universal and it applies to us all—whoever we are, whatever we look like, whoever we share our lives with. No exceptions.

Pacific Island countries have supported this call, with Australia, Fiji, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu signing onto a joint statement of over 80 countries at the UN Human Rights Council condemning violence based on sexual orientation in March this year. The statement expressed concern at the continued evidence in every region of acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including killings, rape, torture and criminal sanctions.

This message was underlined by a historic Human Rights Council resolution on 17 June 2011, expressing grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The resolution requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to commission a study, to be finalized by December 2011, documenting discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against LGBTI individuals, in all regions of the world, and how international human rights law can be used to end these violations. Laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults remain on the statute books in more than 70 countries globally, including the Pacific Island countries of Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu. Such laws are an affront to principles of equality and non-discrimination and fuel hatred and violence—in effect giving homophobia a State-sanctioned seal of approval.

Recognising this, Palau and Nauru accepted recommendations to decriminalize homosexual acts during their appearances at the Human Rights Council. Pacific Island countries have now all completed the first round of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of their human rights situation. Each country will return to the review in four years time to see what progress has been made in implementing their human rights commitments. During the most recent UPR meeting at the Human Rights Council, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea rejected recommendations relating to the decriminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex – citing cultural or religious reasons.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is encouraging countries to make progress in the area of LGBTI rights, and in particular the decriminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex. In a speech on Human Rights Day (10 December) 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “As men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity… Where there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, universal human rights must carry the day”.

Decriminalizing homosexuality is an essential first step towards establishing genuine equality before the law. But real, lasting progress cannot be achieved by changing laws alone. We must change minds as well. Like racism and misogyny, homophobia is a prejudice born of ignorance. And like other forms of prejudice, the most effective long-term response is legal equality backed-up by information and education.

*Matilda Bogner is the Regional Representative for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for the Pacific, based in Suva, Fiji.

For further information and media requests to OHCHR’s Regional Office for the Pacific in Suva, please contact Communications Officer Jacob Quinn at + (679) 331 0465 (ext. 211), or by email