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Acceptance with a friendly smile
When 300 gay tourists travelling on the American luxury cruiser Paul Gauguin stopped in Tahiti in April, an entrepreneurial local organised a gay night in the discotheque, Be Angel, to offer the visitors a special French Polynesian welcome. The night featured go-go dancers and disco music. There were condoms on hand and souvenir T-shirts for sale.
Organiser Arnaud Anjou explained to a local newspaper where the idea came from.
A couple of Canadian friends who were taking part in this cruise asked me what there was in Tahiti for gay people, the places to go. I drew a huge blank, I did not know how to answer him, he told Sydney Star Observer.
There is very little dedicated gay infrastructure in the country. The initiative, called Rainbow Night, was the first time a gay-themed event had been promoted in French Polynesia.
French-born David, 44, has been living with his partner in Tahiti, French Polynesia’s most populous island, for the past seven years.
There is a nightclub called The Piano Bar where you can watch drags shows. There is one beach with difficult access known as a gay beach, David said.
I went to the organised party at Be Angel. But I think many local gays didn’t want to go because they didn’t want everybody to see they are gay. So the crowd was mixed.
As a consequence of the Rainbow Night the Polynesian gay group Cousins-Cousines was inspired to increase awareness of homosexuality in their country.
Chairwoman DolorÃ¨s Dogba said she hoped the event would trigger a movement towards opening the minds of people. It is not easy to confess to being a homosexual in French Polynesia.
Cousins-Cousines was established in March 2007. Its website states, We share the desire to live openly as homosexuals … The objectives of the Association are to contribute to the blossoming of the personal environment, the enrichment of exchanges between persons and the study of tolerance in difference.
The group intends to lobby for Pacte Civil de Solidarite (PaCS) for their country. While Polynesia is a French territory, laws enacted in France are still required to be approved locally. It has been 10 years since France passed PaCS. La DepÃªche, a local newspaper, reported in 2008 the reason for the stalling is because PaCS would justify unions between homosexuals.
To date a feminist group called Vahine Orama has been relatively vocal on the issue. There is a break in equality between the Polynesian citizens and the others, its chairwoman Sandra Levy-Agami said.
Recently another French colony, New Caledonia, passed PaCS.
I think the reason is because the gay life is more open there -” there are more bars and a community group. Hopefully, the precedent they set will apply extra pressure on the Polynesian authorities, David said.
David said he’s never encountered discrimination against him or his partner in Tahiti.
I can say that the local Tahitian people are really tolerant. Our Tahitian neighbours can see that there is no woman living with us and they don’t ask any questions.
David has visited Sydney 10 times. The first thing I do when I arrive is find SSO to see what’s going on.