By Stephen Lee
It’s one of our closest neighbours, but there’s a huge gulf between Papua New Guinea and Australia when it comes to gay rights.
Less than a thousand kilometres separate the two nations but homosexuality in PNG is still illegal. And despite a new government, there seems little hope for change.
Being openly gay in Papua New Guinea could put you in jail for up to 14 years. Homosexuality is illegal, an archaic hangover from colonial British times.
Though the laws aren’t strictly enforced, gay men say they face daily discrimination, and often struggle to find work.
Moses Tau knew he was gay from a young age but struggled with his identity. “It was very painful my growing up,” he told SBS World News Australia reporter Kathy Novak.
“Sometimes I’d ask the Creator – Why am I like this? What’s the reason? Is there any exit or any way out for me?”
Moses put his energy into singing and became a recording artist. But when he was picked to represent PNG at Sydney Mardi Gras in 2000, the backlash from his conservative society had him contemplating suicide.
“It broke me to pieces,” he says. “And I didn’t like to sing any more. I had a breakdown and my heart was broken.”
PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neil has been in power for just over a month and is promising a series of reforms. But there seems little hope of change for the gay community. There’s no mainstream appetite to give gays any legal rights. Mr O’Neil has admitted, “There’s very strong feelings about that within the country and I think Papua New Guinea is yet to accept such sexual openness.”
“Moses Tau is in a unique position because he’s been accepted in wider society because of his fame,” SBS’s Novak tells Same Same. “He’s a well-known singer and is also a judge on the PNG version of “Idol”. So even though he’s gone through a lot of struggles, he’s in a better position that most other gay citizens, and for the most part is able to go about his business openly. I can only imagine how much harder it must be for an average gay citizen.”
It’s a reality Moses has come to accept. “It is getting better but I don’t think we will have legal rights here.” He says his struggle only makes him stronger.