Cyclone destroys LGBTQ youth centre in Tonga
An LGBTQ+ youth centre in Tonga has been destroyed by a cyclone that is thought to be one of the most powerful to hit the island nation.
The Category Five Cyclone Gita caused thousands of dollars worth of damage across the island, including wiping out the national parliament.
LGBTQ activists were devastated to learn that a crucial drop-in centre for young LGBTQ people was also severely damaged by the cyclone.
Run by the Tonga Leitis Association (TLA), the centre acts as a port of call for many LGBTQ people facing persecution as it acts as a shelter for youth rejected by their families.
Henry ‘Aho, the president of TLA, told GSN that the cyclone was “absolutely frightening”.
“Imagine an Airbus landing on your front lawn, that’s what it sounded like, for about 2-4 hours in the dead of night,” ‘Aho added.
The president explained that the shelter has caused devastation among the LGBTQ community in Tonga because they have no central funding.
“We are without a penny or supplies to provide what we need to offer our members. It is vital for us to repair our centre.
“It is where we are able to create a safe space for LGBT persons who have suffered through this disaster, helping them to their feet as life moves on post-Gita.
Aho explained that although it is illegal to be homosexual in Tonga, organisations such as the Tonga Red Cross Society have worked to make sure that LGBTQ+ people are included in the relief efforts as many TLA members also volunteer with the Red Cross.
“If the few members we have working for Tonga Red Cross were not exhaustive in their efforts to push for inclusion of sexual minorities in the care and counselling of those in evacuation centres, LGBTI persons are most likely to get pushed further into the closet and may not find the courage then in such an atmosphere to report any incidents of sexual assault against them for fear of shame or just persisting indifference,” ‘Aho said.
The president explained that the hit means they have had to be “even more proactive in getting the word out that it’s alright to be who you are as an LGBT person” as they face heightened discrimination from some “vocal evangelists” who call the TLA “an abomination”.
“Our members have proven to be resilient and ever fabulous darlings. They just a need a little economic help every now and then from our friends to keep us going,” he said.
‘Aho added that many members have lost their home along with the centre, and so the group has launched a crowdfunding site in order to get the crucial materials needed to rebuild the centre.
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As well as building materials, the money from the fundraiser will be spent on getting food, water and medical supplies to help “rebuild the lives TLA members and the broader LGBTQI community in Tonga”.
He added; “Our members have proven to be resilient and ever fabulous darlings.
“They just a need a little economic help every now and then from our friends to keep us going.
“We are grateful to those who have seen our cause worthy to donate.
“People coming together to help each other is just magnificent.”