- - -
Picture of a rainbow/LGBT flag


In Pictures: The activists who helped win LGBTI+ rights in the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands has removed a law from its Crimes Act that criminalizes homosexuality, in a huge victory for the local LGBTI+ community.

The Cook Islands has removed a law that criminalizes homosexuality, in a huge victory for the local LGBTI+ community. 

Our local Member Association, the Cook Islands Family Welfare Association (CIFWA), has been integral to the advocacy around this law reform, which has faced many hurdles since the movement kicked off in 2017. Staff and volunteers at CIFWA have worked in step with Pride Cook Islands and the Te Tiare Association (TTA), two of the biggest LGBTI+ advocacy organizations in the country, to end discrimination and promote human rights.

Meet some of the inspiring people behind this historic movement.

Dean Tatanga

Dean Tatanga is  the Humanitarian Focal Point for CIFWA and a Registered Nurse. Dean explained that after a new Bill was first presented to Parliament to decriminalise homosexuality in the Cook Islands, elections brought in new members who received some submissions from the public to keep homosexuality illegal.

“Everyone started to rally together, including TTA and CIFWA,” said Dean. “A massive meeting was called … the whole [CIFWA] office was full – the chairs were full; the floor was full – people were out on the grass. We all came there with one idea – we are not going to allow this to happen. This is how Pride Cook Islands was formed.”  

Dean is on the board of Pride Cook Islands and is a Committee Member.  

“The public uproar was amazing. Business owners, members of the general public, basically everyone was outraged the government was going to do this. The government truly underestimated the public. Everybody had an opinion, social media was flooded, and pride flags started going up overnight.”

a picture of Dean Tatanga

Lady Tuaine Marsters

Lady Tuaine Marsters is the spouse of The King's Representative to Cook Islands, Sir Thomas Marsters, and a longtime, vocal supporter of LGBTI+ rights in the Cook Islands.

“If 100% of the world were part of the rainbow community then the world would be a beautiful, peaceful place,” she said. “The rainbow community gives me love and happiness. They’re always there to support the community, when there is a call to help they all come out. I will continue to fight for them whatever I have to do.”

a picture of Lady Tuaine Marsters

Valery Wichman

Valery Wichman is a leading and long-time campaigner for Human Rights in the Cook Islands. She is the president of TTA, which was launched in 2018 by a group of transwomen advocating for health, education, and community empowerment.

Valery is also a Barrister and Solicitor working for the Cook Islands Government and she is currently the Director of the Central Policy and Planning Office at the Office of the Prime Minister. 

"A law doesn't change everything, but it puts a foot in the door," said Valery. "There are more pieces of policy we want to influence. Having such a groundswell of support from people you don't even know - it really brings a community together. Not only members of our Rainbow Community, but also our allies. The message from TTA from the start is we don't want protests and violence. We have always maintained the ethos of love, kindness and respect for everyone.”

a picture of Valery Wichman

Karla Eggelton

Karla Eggelton (right) is the President of Pride Cook Islands and the Chief Executive Officer of Cook Islands Tourism Marketing Corporation. Her partner is Lara Sadaraka and they are mothers to Kayla Pouana Ngaroa Ki Ivanui Pafuti Sadaraka-Eggelton.

Speaking to RNZ News after the Bill was passed, Karla said this was a "massive" moment for the nation. 

"We are so grateful for all the people and all the organisations throughout our community who have been working tirelessly to make this happen ... And I think the message that we want to tell people is: hug your friend, hug your neighbour, hug your niece, hug your daughter, because now we are truly equal."

picture of Karla Eggelton on the right