29 Mar “Don’t assume. When in doubt – ask.” Samoa Fa’afafine Association hosts historic conversation with Media
Samoa media were invited to participate in a one-day workshop to discuss fair, accurate and inclusive reporting of issues pertaining to the SFA community and beyond.
‘Don’t assume. When in doubt – ask.’ This was a key message for Samoa media at today’s Media Guide Workshop on Indigenous Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex issues which was hosted by the Samoa Faafafine Association (SFA). The event was made possible with funding from the United Nations Development Program Global Fund.
In a historic first for Samoa, the media were invited to participate in a one-day workshop to discuss fair, accurate and inclusive reporting of issues pertaining to the SFA community and beyond. Representatives from a wide range of media were in attendance, including television, newspapers, radio and online media. The Association’s eventual goal is to compile a SFA Media Guide which will be circulated to all media organisations as the guidelines for reporting on Fa’afafine, Fa’afatama and LGBTQI issues.
SFA President So’oalo Roger Stanley opened the workshop by thanking the media for their support and their willingness to learn, share and discuss the issues.
Facilitator Vaitoa Toelupe then started the discussion by stating that SFA is a voice representing not only the Fa’afafine and Fa’afatama community, but also those who are LGBTQI. (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex) Toelupe said the one-on-one meeting with the media, sitting together as equals, was “long overdue”.
The death of Jeanine Tuivaiki in 2016 and the way in which her death was reported was cited as a reason why SFA wanted to hold the workshop. However, Toelupe pointed out that, “The Jeanine ‘issue’ became all about the media and about the need for better media practises, but not about Jeanine herself and the challenges Fa’afafine face.”
Toelupe explained that the workshop was an opportunity for SFA to learn from the media, and for media to learn more about Fa’afafine and Fa’atama. “There are too many assumptions being made.”
When looking at the local media, Toelupe began with the positive. “We want to start with the good, acknowledging the great publicity provided by the media in the past for SFA’s charity work, pageants and community service events.”
The ‘bad’ was then identified, including reporting on myths, the media’s tendency to glorify and glamorize Fa’afafine, invasion of privacy, selective reporting and a ‘no need to ask mentality.’
“Too often you assume you know our issues, but you don’t,” said Toelupe.
Participants then went into groups to discuss a number of topics. These included the difference between sex, gender, and sexual orientation, understanding the different types of sexual orientation, the importance of respecting people’s experiences and not mis-gendering them, avoiding the use of derogatory terms, and not asking inappropriate questions about an individual’s sex organs or their sex life.
Toelupe explained that gender identity and expression is a basic human right. “Gone are the days when other people decide who you are. I determine how I identify.”
It was agreed that using appropriate terminology was part of media best practises and one should never assume that ‘all Fa’afafine are the same’ in how they wish to be identified in a news article.
SFA Secretary, Keyonce Lee-Hang said it’s not offensive to ask Fa’afafine and Fa’atama what pronouns they use. “For me, it’s either use ‘she’ and ‘her’, or my name Keyonce.”
One issue raised by several journalists was that of editors who either do not understand the hurt caused by mis-gendering a person, or who do not agree due to their own personal and religious beliefs.
“I wrote a story about a Fa’afafine who wanted me to be sure to use ‘she’ in the article and I did. But when I gave it to my editor, he said no and he changed it all,” one journalist shared.
Other journalists then reminded SFA of the newly established Samoa Media Council which could be helpful in such situations as a regulatory body.
Another suggestion was for a glossary of terms to be included in the SFA Media Guide.
Today’s workshop also covered Fa’afafine and Fa’afatama as specific cultural identities, indigenous terms to Samoa. “This cultural identity has nothing to do with who you have sex with. Sexual orientation is only one of any person’s additional identities. While some may identify as transgender, or gay or lesbian, not all Fa’afaafine and Fa’afatama are LGBTQI.”