Israel Folau has faced widespread criticism for his social media comments. Photo by Andrew Patron/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images

Dear Israel Folau – your unchristian comments hurt young, vulnerable Pasifika

The Australian rugby star has triggered controversy by saying on social media gay people are headed to ‘HELL … Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God’. Such misuse of Bible scripture is the biggest impediment to Pasifika Rainbow people being able to live our lives without fear, backlash and hatred, writes Tuiloma Lina-Jodi Vaine Samu, with the support of 57 other people from the NZ Pasifika community

Dear Israel Folau

At the end of this letter you will see some of the names of Pasifika people you have condemned to hell along with some of our allies.

We want to let you know that your stance towards our LGBTQI+ people is the antithesis of being Christian.

We are incredibly disappointed in your recent comments and soon after you made them, artist activist Tanu Gago encouraged Pasifika people to have the “ake/ate” to reply to you.

We want you to know that the stakes are high for us in Aotearoa, Australia and in the Pacific.

Our youth suicide rates are the highest in the “developed” world and Pasifika who identify as LGBTQI+ are a significant number of those souls who take their own lives because of the intolerance, rejection and hatred from our own loved ones. While we like to think our Pasifika peoples are some of the most loving of all, you have highlighted that this is often not the case when it comes to LGBTQI+ peoples.

Rugby Australia and its main sponsor Qantas condemned your bigoted statement as did many other high profile rugby players. It shows that when it comes to Pālangi commerce, there are swift and harsh consequences. So why have we as Pasifika, Moana-nui-o-Kiva communities not as a whole stood up immediately to say – “Ikai! Kare! Leai! No Israel Folau! This is abhorrent and it is wrong!”

The sad thing is we can’t deny that many of our people are entrenched in this unforgiving, (un)Christian conditioning and agree with you. The mistranslation and misuse of Bible scripture is the biggest impediment to Pasifika Rainbow people being able to live our lives without fear, backlash and hatred from those who often matter the most to us.

An unquestioning belief in and holding fast to the Bible is very much a feature of our lives as Pasifika peoples. Our cultures are entrenched in our Christian faiths and this has been central to our modern-day cultures since we were colonised. But our peoples also need to remember that fa’afafine, fa’afatama, fakafefine/ fakaleiti, fakafifine, ‘akavaine and sexually diverse cultures are more ancient and authentically ancestral than our Christian religion is.

I believe as do many of the Pacific LGBTQI+ Rainbow community that Jesus Christ is our God and Redeemer. The Jesus Christ that I know and believe in is one of unconditional love, compassion, non-judgement and service to everyone. My Christian faith is crucial to my wellbeing, so too are the legacy and beliefs left by our ancestors.

Statistics show there is a big chance that someone close to you in your own famili, aiga, ‘anau, matavuvale, magafaoa, kaina is going to be fa’afafine, fa’afatama, fakaleiti, fakafifine, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or gender fluid. I truly hope Israel that if one of your own beloved family members comes out: that you don’t simply condemn them to hell. If so, then that is a whole lot of ta’e ‘ofa (Tongan for lovelessness, no love, no compassion, no empathy, no sympathy) going on. I want to acknowledge our LGBTQI+ champions of the Pacific present and past, in particular, the Tonga Leitis Association who are struggling to rebuild their facilities and services after being devastated by Tropical Cyclone Gita. They provide shelter and stability for those LGBTQI+ people:

I know from experience the impact of such hatred. My own aiga/family was faced with either accepting or rejecting a beloved one for being gay. In 1985 our parents led our Mangere East collections of signatures against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill. My parents both gave me a hiding when I refused to sign the petition. I resented them tremendously as they ended up forcing me to sign it and I vowed that no-one would ever take away my freedom of choice, my right of agency and free will ever again.

When they discovered that my brother Harold was 1. Gay and 2. A popular drag Queen (drag name: Bertha the Beast), it caused upheaval for our family throughout that year. Everything they believed to be true and right based on their deep-rooted religion was upended. They had to dig deep and reconcile their lives to maintaining their strong belief in their faith, whilst showing unconditional love for their son. They thankfully chose loving their son and vowed to support him and stand by him rather than rejecting and disowning him as many families did – and still do.

Between the mid-1980s and 1990s many of my brother’s close friends died from HIV/Aids. And our parents were with him, sitting alongside him, attending every farewell. The lesson learnt for our aiga, community and our parents was: Be careful, when you’re so immersed in religiously misguided homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, you might be raising the biggest drag queen/gay man/fa’afafine in your own home.

Our people have to find the courage, faith and the love as my own parents did, otherwise we will be forever locked in a lose-lose situation.

Yours truly, Tuiloma Lina-Jodi Vaine Samu

With the support of: Tanu Gago, Resitara Apa, Phylesha Brown-Acton, Joey Joleen Mataele, Fia’ailetoa Ken Moala, Phineas Hartson, Pesetā Betty Sio, Lealailepule Edward “Buckwheat” Cowley, JD Victor, Leuli Eshraghi, Iakopo Tologata, Sonya Apa Temata, Robbie Kainuku, Tim Swann, Tim Baice, Lindah Lepou, Walter Kawika’iulani Aipa and Herbee Bartley, Jaycee Tanuvasa, Va’inetuta’i Richard, Alan J Wendt, Nick Netzler, Darren Taniue, Torranice Campbel, Dee Fa’aea-Aiono, Robert Oliver, Angelyse-Heitiare Armstrong, Tuafale Tanoa’i, Teokota’i Paitai, Siaosi Mulipola, Yuki Kihara, Michael Gullery, Ana Te Whaiti, Paul Fagamalo, Cathryn Laban, Dr Clive Aspin, Associate Professor Leonie Pihama, Monise Fata-Meafou, Jaye Moors, Harold Samu, Olivia Taouma, Lisa Taouma, Erina Rewita Leauanae, Faumui Lope Ginnen, Faiva Holmes, Aruna Po-Ching, Amanda Moors Mailei, Lani Wendt Young, Rhia Taonui, Malia Manuleleua Tua’i, Reverend Mua Strickson-Pua, Nina Milne, Pesetā Eunice Sio, Rena Mahauariki, Richard Shortland Cooper, Agnes Rasmussen, Melissa Lama, Danielle O’Halloran, Christine Robertson-Ammunson

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