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Mormon Polynesians Split on Prop 8

Silicon Valley Debug, Commentary, Jean Melesaine Posted: Nov 20, 2008

Editor's note: Mormonism has made heavy inroads in the Polynesian community and in the recent battle over Proposition 8, the anti-gay message of the church caused painful rifts for author Jean Melesaine, who is queer, Polynesian--and raised Mormon. Video by Tiburon accompanies the essay. Melesaine and Tiburon are contributors to Silicon Valley Debug

I've never seen Polynesians as publicly engaged in an issue as they were with Proposition 8. Many of them are Mormons, and the Mormon Church really pushed for Yes on 8. I'm Polynesian, queer and raised in the Mormon Church. Of all of the issues our Polynesian community could organize around -- drugs, violence, gangs, education for our youth -- they choose the one that is against me.

I had words with the Yes On 8 protesters at De Anza College, the college I attend in Cupertino, Calif. The campus became a war zone between Yes and No on Prop 8 groups. The majority of those who came to rally for Yes on 8 were Polynesians, and probably don't attend De Anza. Not surprisingly, they were Mormon, and as deeply personal as this issue is for me, they seemed as if they were blindly just doing what they were being told to do. One of them, probably not even a student, responded by saying, "I don't know about this, I just came for the f--- of it."

I was the only Polynesian on the opposing side.

I was baptized in the Mormon Church and according to my full-blown Mormon cousin, technically I'm still Mormon until I'm ex-communicated. I renounced Mormonism when I was 10, two years after my baptism, but I still attended church because it was the only place where other Polynesians organized. I attended a church where the pastor adamantly pushed for the passage of Prop 8. It became obvious that I couldn't stay in his congregation after he used the word "faggot" in his sermon.

Polynesians are always seen as being big people in small groups -- minorities on campus or in the community. As in any group, there's a good number of Polynesians who are gay, so even being seen as a small group of people, to be gay within that group makes you even smaller. Feeling like a minority at times gets overwhelming because I'm usually the token Polynesian, or if I'm not the token Polynesian, I'm usually the token queer. From my perspective being gay has made me a stronger person because I have to make visible the invisible and give voice to the voiceless for the future to come.

I became deeply emotional after seeing that the Mormon Church, which consists of some of the richest white people, were donating so much moneymore than $20 millionall the way from Utah to the Yes On 8 campaign. Yet none of those rich white people were out here doing the dirty work of campaigning against gay marriage. They were having my people do their slave work making the signs, marching in the rain, telling obnoxious and bigoted jokes at college campuses.

And who knows, maybe my people want to do the work. It's like seeing your family on crack, brainwashed by that white stuff only to answer with, "God is on my side." At De Anza, I thought perhaps they would listen to me more than the other No on 8 students because I was Polynesian. But as I tried, and they murmured "faggot" in between laughs and threw flyers at our crowd, I felt like I was wasting my breath on people who didn't care. People who didn't understand enough to care.

My Mormon cousin, whom I'd been staying with for the last two weeks, was part of that. She made homophobic remarks anytime the proposition came up on the news or we drove by signs. I bit my tongue to make my two-week stay a little lighter. One day we were driving on a freeway and there were two people waving their "No On 8" signs on the overpass. My cousin yelled, "Yes on 8!" and then I told her that I was against Prop 8. There was an awkward silence and I left her house earlier than I had planned. Any time I brought up my experience and homophobia, she would immediately end the conversation. Her strong religious beliefs and homophobia made it impossible for me to stay with her.

The strange this is, the basis for so many Polynesians being against gay marriage their Mormon faith was never ours to begin with. We had, and still have, our own religions from the islands, ones that are inclusive and embracing of everyone in the community. If our community wants to move forward, we need to embrace the parts of our culture that bring us together and let go of the things that are tearing us apart.

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