Last week I attended the 2nd Asia Pacific Outgames Human Rights Conference in Wellington to discuss the push for equality in the region.
While I cannot do justice to the spectrum of presentations, there was resounding consensus that diversity and cultural difference must lie at the heart of our politics.
Rather than just paying lip service to ‘celebrating diversity’ or having a token speaker from a non-white background, the conference placed human rights activism squarely within Maori knowledges or ‘takatapui’.
Takatapui emerged in response to the colonising use of ‘LGBTI’ or ‘queer’ for non-Western peoples and takes a holistic view of diverse sex, sexuality and gender expressions rather than as issues separate from a person’s cultural background.
Often rights-based claims work by identifying one category of identity, i.e. race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. Sometimes we trade off on certain forms of identity categories without even realising.
Lobbying for equal relationship recognition under the law assumes that all people will necessarily be better off by ending legislative discrimination and removing differences between disparate groups of people.
For example, when considered in the context of both age and sexuality, we must appreciate how such legislative recognition of same-sex de facto couples in 2008 effectively coerced ‘out’ elderly couples to places like Centrelink, and who would now be financially disadvantaged by the welfare changes.
Marriage equality is often touted as one of the last areas of discrimination facing sex, sexuality and gender diverse communities. However, this view fails to acknowledge that for many queer Indigenous Australians the gap to access to health, education, and adequate housing is a result of intersecting sexuality and racial discrimination.
In the context of where we are never just gay or lesbian, but are also Maori or Aboriginal, or elderly, or from a low socio-economic background, or of a different faith, can we really continue to divide people’s lives into discrete categories?
If the answer is ‘no’ then we must develop new dialogues and forms of activism that privilege the ‘intersectionalities’ of our identities.
Takatapui is a way of initiating some of these conversations and in Australia, we need to develop a new political discourse in terms of Indigenous sovereignty. It is not enough to just talk about solidarity and inclusion, we have to live it as part of our everyday politics.
By SENTHORUN RAJ, NSW GLRL