Tonga Leitis Relief Efforts post Cyclone Gita

The Kingdom of Tonga is comprised of 176 islands, with 36 of them inhabited. It is the only kingdom in the Pacific and despite being known as the ‘friendly islands’, it’s one of the least traveled countries in the world. On February 12th, 2018, Tropical Cyclone Gita was the strongest cyclone to hit the main islands of Tonga and the South Pacific in the past 60 years. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory when it slammed into the island nation it was packing sustained winds of 230 kilometres (145 miles) per hour.

Cyclone Gita brought down electricity lines, smashing homes and churches, and levelling fruit trees and crops vital to the nation’s livelihood. While aid agencies have started to respond, such crises render vulnerable gender and sexual minorities invisible and neglected in their time of greatest need. One such community now in need is the Tonga Leitis Association or TLA. Leiti  is a local cultural term which is a modern derivation of the English word ‘lady’ and is used as an inclusive term for the broad range of men who have sex with men, transgender people, gay and bisexual men and non-identifying MSM (men who have sex with men.) The TLA was established in 1992 with a focus on improving the rights, celebrating the contribution of Leitis in Tonga and to respond to the HIV epidemic. According to ILGA’s United Nations country team, ‘sexual and gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence, sexual assault and rape, and violence against transgender persons in Tonga is widespread.’

The TLA drop-in centre, which serves as a shelter for LGBT youth rejected by their families and communities, suffered severe damage. The TLA urgently require financial donations to repair their roof that ripped off in the violent storm. The TLA President Henry Aho described the cyclone as “absolutely frightening. Imagine an Airbus landing on your front lawn, that’s what it sounded like, for about 3-4 hours in the dead of night.”

The TLA has set up on online crowdsourcing platform here. Planet Ally has donated and will also donate a portion of their next fundraiser to the TLA. We take our solidarity and active allyship in the region very seriously, so we also want to share that we are in the process of planning film fundraisers in late March in Hong Kong, and in Adelaide and Melbourne for early April.

In 2017 we were lucky enough to visit Tonga, so the plight of our friends in Tonga feels very personal to us. While there, we caught up with openly gay Olympic swimmer Amini Fonua. Amini was named Outsports 2016 Male Hero of the Year because of his stance after a Daily Beast journalist outed a number of closeted gay athletes at Rio. Amini and his lovely family run the House of Tonga, a gorgeous hotel in the heart of the Capital Nuku‘alofa. Having a Tongan local like Amini to show you the spectacular island treasures is a must!

Never to be upstaged, we absolutely loved catching up with the larger than life Joey Joleen Mataele. Joey is a prominent and beloved activist for Tonga and the Pacific, Co-Founder of the Tonga Leitis Association and the Founder of Tonga’s Miss Galaxy Pageant.  The pageant has become an enormous phenomenon, raising crucial funding and even garnering the support of Her Royal Highness Princess Salote Lupepau’u Tuita.

We will be releasing our interview with Amini and Joey at our upcoming fundraisers, if you would like more information please contact:


Follow Amini on Twitter @AminiFonua 

Follow Joey on Twitter @JoleenDeflir 

Find Tonga Leitis on Facebook  or their website:

Find the House of Tonga here:

Donate to the TLA’s You Caring Fund here: 

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