Efeso Collins is a front-runner for Mayor of Auckland, but his unfortunate past hangs over his political aspirations. In 2012, Collins was a staunch advocate against the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, the bill that would allow same-sex marriage. That cut the queer community deep.
It is instinctive to seek revenge from those who've hurt us. Collins' words and actions hurt me. They made me so angry that I held strong feelings against Collins for a long time. But with age came wisdom and understanding. Twelve-year-old me was profusely angry at Collins for advocating against same-sex marriage. At 22, I accept that I belong to colonised peoples. My people's actions are not always consistent with our culture because Christianity supplanted our culture.
Pākehā queer folk assume that I am betraying the queer community because I am not mad at Collins. Pākehā often forget that indigenous queer identities were integral to Pacific communities before the British colonised and forcefully imposed English law throughout the Pacific. Pākehā brought the laws that criminalised homosexuality to our lands.
Collins faces a double whammy.
Pākehā left-wingers demand that Pacific politicians act consistently with progressive ideas at all times. They rarely see that limited progress in the Pacific community constrains Pacific leaders' actions. Pacific communities, particular elders, remain politically conservative due to the lasting effect of colonisation.
The state awarded the British colonisers' and settlers' descendants egalitarian education and the opportunity to advance human rights movements while the Pacific community battled the dawn raids and entrenched poverty. The state did not afford the Pacific community the same resources, education, and time to undo the effects of colonisation.
Pacific peoples exist in collectivist communities. It is a blessing and a curse. It means that our identity and happiness are deeply embedded in belonging to our community. I grew up in a small village in Fiji. The village elders put me into conversion therapy at a young age to cure my queerness.
I stayed in conversion therapy because the church convinced me that refusing to change meant my community would banish me. Anyone who supported me suffered the same faith. The fear of losing my community was more overwhelming than trying to change. That is the kind of importance and grip collectivism has on Pacific peoples.
Like the elders in my village, Collins is a product of the church. The church raised Collins to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and anything otherwise is sinful. Anyone who retaliates against the church is banished.
I look at Collins' actions in light of the communities he represented when advocating against same-sex marriage. It is difficult to accept, even for me, that many people from my community have deeply held anti-queer views and they are not passive holders of these beliefs. I empathise with Collins. The church would have taken his silence to support queer people, and the extremists would have excommunicated him from the Pacific church and community. People wanted Collins excommunicated for supporting the vaccine rollout.
So far, the past. Collins has apologised for his past actions and supports same-sex marriage. I developed a personal relationship with Collins when he reached out to me when I was leading the movement to ban conversion therapy.
The church wrote me off. Collins acted as the bridge between the church and me. Collins saw that the church violently opposed the conversion therapy ban primarily out of misunderstanding the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill. Collins took it upon himself to educate the church. I remember being on the phone with Collins regularly, answering his questions about the conversion therapy ban. He made notes swiftly as I spoke at the speed of light, never complaining.
In those moments, I witnessed Collins' fatherly protective nature in action to protect queer people. The anger I held towards Collins melted into empathy. I forgave him and refused to punish Pacific elders for taking the time to undo colonial trauma. I seek intergenerational healing over revenge. Despite Collins' past, his present actions prove he is a changed man. The best apology is action.
I trust that Collins has my queer back.
Shaneel Shavneel Lal (they/them) was instrumental in the bill to ban conversion therapy in New Zealand. They are a law and psychology student, model and influencer.