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President of Tonga LGBTQ rights group murdered

Polikalepo Kefu was killed near their home on May 1

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Tonga Leitis Association President Polikalepo Kefu. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

The president of an LGBTQ rights group in Tonga was murdered on May 1.

Media reports indicate Tonga Leitis Association President Polikalepo Kefu was killed near their home in Lapaha, a village on the island of Tongatapu on which the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa is located. Deputy Tonga Police Commissioner Tevita Vailea on Monday in a statement said authorities have charged a 27-year-old man with murder.

“This is a tragic event, and our thoughts are with Mr. Kefu’s family, friends and wider community,” said Vailea.

The Tonga Leitis Association in a statement described Kefu as “a selfless humanitarian and a tireless advocate for the rights of those with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.” The group also announced Cruella Tuinukuafe has been named interim president.

“In these dark and troubling times, we are reminded of Poli’s light and positive energy, and we encouraged knowing that this is when we are most needed to continue our work,” said the Tonga Leitis Association.

Amini Fonua, an openly gay Olympic swimmer from Tonga, also mourned Kefu.

“Hearing the news of Poli Kefu’s passing has left us all shocked and deeply saddened,” Fonua told the Washington Blade on Tuesday in an email. “Poli was a beacon of light, whose smile and sense of humor touched so many lives. Poli’s work for equality and human rights is well documented through all his volunteer work and presidency at the Leitis Association. Poli was a fighter for all the voiceless LGBTQ people, not just in Tonga, but all throughout the Pacific.”

ILGA Oceania in a statement noted Kefu in February helped coordinate a virtual symposium it organized in Fiji.

“Poli was a humble gentle inspiring leader who displayed a proactive interaction with ILGA Oceania on its various projects and conferences,” said ILGA Oceania.

“In the spirit of activism and friendship, we will miss you Poli for your pro-active, strong activism, your commitment and dedication to LGBTI issues and movement throughout the kingdom of Tonga, the Pacific Islands and Oceania,” added the statement.

The Tonga Leitis Association was founded in 1992.

The organization specifically advocates on behalf of transgender and gender-variant Tongans and other members of the country’s LGBTQ community. The Tonga Leitis Association also provides health care and other services to people with HIV/AIDS.

Tonga is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Fonua during a 2017 interview with the Blade said anti-LGBTQ discrimination, homophobia and transphobia remain commonplace in his homeland.

“It is truly a devastating day when we learn that people in the Pacific are still being murdered for simply living in their truth,” said Fonua on Tuesday. “Poli’s death won’t be in vain, and we shall continue the fight for equality and equal protection under the law.”

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Virginia

Virginia Beach high school students stage walkouts to support transgender rights

City’s school board approved policy to out trans students to parents

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Transgender flags (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key.)

Students at five Virginia Beach high schools on Friday staged walkouts in support of transgender rights.

The walkout is in response to the Virginia Beach School Board approving policy 5-31, which the Pride Liberation Project says will require schools to out trans students to their parents.

Students have been organizing walkouts across the state since Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin earlier this year announced new guidelines for trans and nonbinary students.

“Students like me aren’t going to be able to talk to our teachers if we’re constantly worried about our school officials calling home to forcibly out us,” AJ, a trans Kellam High School Student, told the Pride Liberation Project.

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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District of Columbia

Pepco, Exelon announce $2.7 million in funding for four minority-owned businesses

‘It’s good business sense to bring more people to the table’

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Pepco and Exelon held a press conference Friday to announce four recipients of $2.7 million in investments. (Photo courtesy Exelon)

Pepco and Exelon announced a $2.7 million investment in four minority-owned businesses on Friday.

“Today’s been a long time coming,” said Pepco Vice President of Governmental and External Affairs Valencia McClure.

Pepco’s parent company, Exelon, launched the Racial Equity Capital Fund (RECF) in 2022 to expand capital access to diverse businesses. This latest $2.7 million investment is just a portion of RECF’s $36 million in funding.

At the announcement, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser spoke about the other ways Pepco and Exelon have “put their money where their mouth is” through their partnership with the D.C. Infrastructure Academy. She reported that all 22 of the residents that graduated from the program last week have a job offer from Pepco.

“We know that is not just a job, but a career,” she said to the crowd’s applause. “We know that working together, we can invest in D.C. residents, provide opportunity, and ensure that our D.C. businesses are a part of D.C.’s growing prosperity.”

The four minority businesses that received funding were Gemini Energy Solutions, Public Sector Solutions Group, CJR Development Partners, and Escalate.

“It’s good business sense to bring more people to the table,” said fund recipient Nicole Cober, CJR Development’s Principle Managing Partner.

Gemini Energy Solutions, which is Black owned, received $1 million, the most of the four companies. Its mission is to equitably scale energy efficiency to marginalized communities. For the founder and CEO Anthony Kinslow II, this investment means that he is able to get paid and advance the work of his organization.

“We are now able to accelerate the work in our software and technology development,” he said. “What we were going to do in two years, we are now going to do in six months.”

For Escalate, a workforce development platform focused on frontline worker retention, the funding means that it will be able to double the pay for frontline workers.

Public Sector Solutions Group CEO Darryl Wiggins emphasized that this investment was not just ‘charity’ work, but mission-driven work.

“The principle and the intent is greater than the money we receive,” he said. Public Sector Solutions is Black owned.

Public Sector Solutions Group received a $600,000 debt investment; CJR Development, a minority and woman-owned small business, received a $600,000 debt investment; and Escalate, a majority Black and woman-owned company, received a $500,000 equity investment.

Exelon launched the RECF in partnership with RockCreek, one of the world’s largest diverse-owned global investment firms, in 2022. The RECF expands capital access to diverse businesses so they can create more jobs, grow their companies and reinvest in their neighborhoods and communities, according to a statement from Exelon.

New RECF applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Interested businesses may apply online or contact RockCreek at [email protected] for more information.

(Photo courtesy Exelon)
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