French Polynesian raeraes eye gay marriage debate | Pacific Beat

French Polynesian raeraes eye gay marriage debate

French Polynesian raeraes eye gay marriage debate

Updated 31 January 2013, 11:08 AEST

The French parliament is in the early stages of a two-week debate on whether to legalise marriage and adoption for same-sex couples.

The "Marriage for All" bill was part of President Francois Hollande's election campaign last year, but it's sparked huge demonstrations by people opposed to the bill, as well as by those in favour.

The debate's being watched with keen interest in French Polynesia, by both the gay community, and also by Tahiti's "raerae" - people who live as, or regard themselves as being, of the opposite sex, but who may not have had gender reassignment surgery. While legalised gay marriage would not directly impact on raeraes, they hope it might lead to a change in attitudes and a reduction in the discrimination they face.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Sabrina Birk, Tahitian politician

 

BIRK: It's difficult to say, but we can say they're quite a bit, maybe ten per cent (of the population)
 
COUTTS: And how are they being discriminated against?
 
BIRK: Yes, they are being discriminated in many ways, mostly in jobs. They are, they are having a hard time finding jobs, even when they do, high levels of university studies, they may find themselves having to prostitute themselves in order to survive in society and so first it's in matters of jobs they are discriminated, then it is in matters of rights that they are discriminated. So yes, there is a lot of discrimination against raerae in our country.
 
COUTTS: And do you think there's much support in French Polynesia for the debate that's going on in France about the possibility of legalising marriage for all, same sex couples included?
 
BIRK: Yes, there is a lot of the young generation that are favourable for the same sex marriage and for rights for raerae, because they are now conscious, because raerae today are speaking up, they go on TV, they speak of their problems, and so now there is a consciousness among the youth and because we go to school today, lots of young children raerae go to school very young, dressed as little girls and so even in schools, children are used to seeing raerae.
 
COUTTS: And is the school system accepting of the children that go to school dressed as girls?
 
BIRK: Well, it all depends on certain teachers. Some teachers accept, some don't. But mentalities are changing. Our problem is the older generation, those that are Christians, the Catholics, these are the generations, these are the people that are against the expression of feminiity in matters of raerae. They would like the raerae to dress as men, have a man's name and cut their hair very short like men.
 
COUTTS: And is that a sort of men, women to men and men to women. Is it a two-way street?
 
BIRK: Yes, yes. We also have a lesbian movement too. We have let's say there are two main movements that are favourable for the same sex marriage. We have the Gay Association that is called Cousin Cousine, and we have a Raerae Association, that is mostly all these transgenders and let's say the lesbians are more in the gay community and they are asking more for the rights of marriage. As to the transgender, are asking a lot for the right to have a job and to adopt children. Because raerae suffer more discrimination in matters of jobs. As to the gay community, no, they find jobs easier, because they do not dress like women. They dress as their sex. As for the transgender society, they are not really well accepted, so they suffer a lot of discrimination. But we have these two movements, the gay - may it be lesbian or homosexual and the raerae trans gender society and they would really like to have right to adopt children in order. When you get old, when you, you want to have the right to be loved by your children and when we look at older people, they always have their children around them, they have the loved ones, their family around them. But when you look at homosexuals and when you look at the raerae, they grow old all by themselves and we have noticed that there is a high rate of suicide among these two communities, because, let's say, there is a lot of lack of loving people around them.
 
COUTTS: If the bill does eventually get passed, the same sex marriage etcetera, will it make much difference to the raerae?
 
BIRK: Yes, it will. It will make a lot of a difference, because they will be accepted. Right now, there is a lot of lobbying against this marriage from the Christians, the Catholics and they do not want them to be recognised as having the same rights as heterosexuals..
 
COUTTS: How readily available is the reassignment operations, are they readily available for people who would like them?
 
BIRK: Hmm, the raerae community is not really these days favourable to this surgery. Let's say in matters of love, to become a woman and to have a woman's name in matters of identity, you have to have this surgery. But they are not favourable, because they say that when they do go through this surgery, they lose the pleasure when making love and they lose forever the possibility of having a child and they think this is very unfair today to ask for them to have this surgery in order to be considered as a woman. They would like to be considered as a woman without going through this surgery.
 
COUTTS: Alright, back to the opening question now. The debate that's going on in France. It looks like it's only in its infancy, it's early stages. So it's going to be a long time before they get around to even passing a bill if people, if they get the support for the bill, so even longer in French Polynesia before that might happen?
 
BIRK: I do not believe, I believe it can go very fast. That was the promise of the Socialist Government to do this as fast as possible. And when we're looking at it, we see that it is possible that it could go pretty fast.
 

Contributors

Geraldine Coutts

Geraldine Coutts

Presenter

Geraldine is a respected voice on issues in the Pacific and is the presenter of our morning Pacific Beat  program.

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