The Pacific island nation threw off the shackles of colonialism
In April, the Cook Islands repealed a colonial-era ban on gay sex. It was the culmination of years of hard work by local and international LGBTQ rights activists.
Their battle is described in this edited, abridged version of an article published in Pink News:
How the Cook Islands fought off the shackles of colonialism and freed its LGBTQ+ community
By Patrick Kelleher
The Cook Islands, known as a religious and somewhat conservative place, is a self-governing territory in the South Pacific Ocean that has a free association with New Zealand. It has a population of around 17,000 people, meaning it sometimes gets overlooked in discussions about global LGBTQ+ rights.
But Nerida Williams, a senior communications advisor to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, realized there was a story “that hadn’t been told before”, that of a burgeoning LGBTQ+ rights movement and a community no longer willing to live under the shadow of criminality.
Nerida decided to find all of the LGBTQ+ advocates on the island and interview them. She and award-winning photographer Hannah Maule-ffinch drove around the island collecting personal testimony and powerful portraits to create a snapshot in time of a region on the brink of change.
Cook Islands’ queer residents have fought tirelessly for change
Karla Eggleton and Lara Sadaraka, a local same-sex couple, know from personal experience just how hard-won the battle to change minds – and the law – was.
Lara tells PinkNews that she went through a significant period of self-discovery and personal growth, which coincided with the passing of her father. This was a time when she began navigating through her sexuality and coming to terms with her authentic self.
No overt discrimination
While Karla and Lara have never experienced overt discrimination on the island themselves, they know not everyone has been so lucky – although they are adamant that society is changing.
Lara said she couldn’t believe that they had finally reached this milestone as a nation. She felt an immense sense of gratitude for all the advocates and people who fought tirelessly for this long awaited recognition of equal rights and acceptance.
“This was a grassroots effort from different segments of the rainbow community, so it wasn’t just gay men, it wasn’t just lesbian women, it wasn’t just transgender people. It was everyone coming together for a shared goal, because it was really important to them to overturn this anti-homosexual bill.” she said.