In April 2005, Australian Thomas McCosker and Fijian Dhirendra Nadan were sentenced to two years jail under Fiji’s sodomy legislation. At the trial, magistrate Syed Muhktar Shah said their behaviour “would make any decent person vomit”.
Four months later, the pair were acquitted on appeal, as the Fiji High Court ruled that individuals conducting homosexual acts in private were protected by the constitution.
Suva resident Tony, 25, who prefers not to use his real name due to the emergency decrees, said this case was unusual because such prosecutions are uncommon in Fiji.
While there is no evidence to suggest a direct link, the following year there was an unofficial policy announcement that men would not be arrested for consensual gay sex. However, the Government made no official legislative changes — the British sodomy law remains on statute outlawing both private and public sodomy acts.
Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase was cited in 2005 as saying the Bible stated homosexuality was a sin and the Fiji law reflected that.
Tony believes there is a lack of understanding around diversity.
“Fiji is a conservative, religious nation. The Methodist church is powerful and they have always been vocal that homosexuality is against God’s law. There is a negative portrayal of gays in Fiji as most people do not even understand homosexuality,” Tony said.
In 1997 Fiji became the second country in the world to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in their constitution. It was this constitutional change, together with the privacy clause, which aided in the McCosker/Nadan case.
This year, under the military coup this constitution was abolished. Tony hopes an equality clause will be reinstated in the new constitution.
“According to Commodore Bainimarama, Fiji will have a new constitution by 2013. The new constitution promises to enshrine equal rights for all in Fiji. If we are to follow South Africa’s lead and remove all discrimination then hopefully gays can get some equal recognition too,” Tony said.
“But I personally do not foresee this happening, as equal rights for Fiji LGBTs still have a long way to go. We don’t have a single organisation or NGO that is advocating for gay rights.”
In an effort to unite Fiji’s gay and lesbian population, Tony has established a Facebook group called Rainbow Fiji.
“I created the group hoping to bring all the Fiji LGBTs together. I want the younger Fijians questioning their sexuality to know they are not alone in the world. I want them to know its OK to be gay and there is nothing wrong with expressing our sexuality,” Tony told SSO.
“I hope to register my group as an NGO. My long-term goal is to establish a LGBT youth centre in Suva. Local reaction to whatever work we do is hard to gauge. I bet the Methodist Church and other religious organisations are not going to be happy. Everyone talks about making a difference but I want to actually do something.”
Suva-born Tavai, 27, believes the solution lies with a united front.
“There is so much segregation within the gay community alone, and before we lobby and work on the advocating of equal rights for LGBTs in Fiji, we must first, most importantly, work together as a family.”