Challenging homophobia is a collective responsibility

We really should not have been surprised when Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene wrote a post this week criticising Māori Television and the programming and stated there are “too many men running around in skirts and make-up”. Why? Because the Labour MP also voted against the Marriage Equality Bill in April 2013. ( )

Tirikatene had voted yes in the first two readings however when it came to the final reading he voted No, stating, “Primarily I didn’t see this as an equality issue. To me, marriage is between a man and a woman” (

So, what exactly prompted this new rise of ignorance from the Te Tai Tonga MP?

When I read the quote to a whanaunga travelling with me, she responded:

“What? Does he mean kapa haka? Is he saying piupiu are skirts and moko are makeup?”

Clearly she does not watch a lot of Māori Television other than kapa haka and Matatini, but the fundamental point she was making is that many Māori men today do wear piupiu and make up as a part of our cultural ways of being, and as such the ignorance of Tirikatene’s statement was even more pointed. The issue, however is that he was not referring to kapa haka, rather he was referring to those programmes on Māori Television such as ‘Queens of Pangaru’ and ‘The Ring Inz’ both of which include and affirm takatāpui.

For some the remark made by Rino Tirikatene may seem flippant or unthinking. However, in light of his voting against Marriage Equality it is clear that these views are firmly held. Statements such as this made by a Māori politician can not go unanswered. Such comments serve to validate the homophobia that is deeply embedded within Aotearoa and fails to recognise the pain that is inflicted upon those that identify as takatāpui or Māori LGTBQI as a consequence of those homophobic views.

The idea that Māori men should not wear skirts or makeup links directly to broader hetero-normative beliefs that were brought to Aotearoa by the colonial invaders.

Let’s be clear, all of our people wore piupiu or maro, as Awhina Tamarapa and Patricia Wallace write;
“Traditional Māori dress was both varied and complex. Māori wore a wide range of hairstyles and ornaments, skin colourings and oils, as well as facial or body tattoos. Clothing consisted of shoulder and waist garments, belts and sometimes sandals. People adorned themselves with a range of neck and ear pendants, and carried prized weapons in formal situations.Shoulder garments included capes and cloaks, ranging from practical rain capes to full-length cloaks with stitched or intertwined attachments, or with intricately woven tāniko borders. Waist garments comprised maro (frontal aprons) and a variety of kilt-like garments.While items of dress gave protection against physical elements, they could also hold spiritual significance. There was little difference between the clothing of men and women, aside from those of high status.”

The implantation of victorian colonial nuclear domesticated ideas of gender have had a destructive impact upon our people for over 200 years. Imposed colonial dress codes are a part of a wider embedding of patriarchal domination on Indigenous women and children. It was the coloniser that created the idea that only Māori women and girls wear skirts, it was the coloniser that worked to determine who was considered important enough to talk Treaty with, it was the coloniser that sought to elevate Māori men over Māori women in line with their worldview of the subjugation of women, it was the coloniser that instituted structures to domesticate our whānau into a tidy nuclear family structure that creates an environment which enables oppression and violence, it was the coloniser that has been systematic in the implanting of homophobic belief systems that deny the fluidity and multiple ways in which we express our selves and our sexuality.

The impact of colonisation has been immense in regards to gender, gender expression and sexuality. It has also had a significant impact on how many of our own whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations view and treat takatāpui. Where I have heard many stories of total acceptance of takatāpui within our communities I have also heard many painful and disturbing stories of violence, both psychologically and physically, against whānau members once they have ‘come out’. We are well aware of the high levels of self harm associated with the impact of violence and rejection of takatāpui amongst our people, including as a direct result of homophobic bullying and psychological abuse in organisations.

These acts of violence can not be tolerated by anyone. We are all collectively responsible for the wellbeing of all members of our whānau, hapū, iwi and communities. We are all collectively responsible for challenging the colonial belief systems that create contexts of hatred and violence against members of our whānau, hapū, iwi and communities. We are all collectively accountable for the perpetuation of any discourses or belief systems that contribute to the maintainance and reproduction of systems of oppression against our people. Homophobia and transphobia can never be tolerated within Aotearoa, and anyone that holds a position of power such as that held by Rino Tirikatene must be directly challenged for such views.

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