LEITIS IN WAITING”— Joey and the Tonga

“Leitis In Waiting”

Joey and the Tonga

Amos Lassen

“Leitis In Waiting” is the story of Joey Mataele and the Tonga Leitis, a group of transgender women who are fighting religious fundamentalism and intolerance in the South Pacific Kingdom. Directed by Joe Wilson, the documentary shows us the threat facing a small LGBTQ community the other side of the world in the only Pacific Island chain that was never colonized or invaded, until now.   Today Tonga is essentially a conservative yet tolerant nation. they are also a very a tolerant one too.  The leitis identify as men or women who dress in a feminine way, but mainly don’t think of themselves as either men or women.


The film is based around Joey Joleen Mataele, the very self-assured President of Tongan Leitis Association, and it is she who explains in detail the very exact role that they have always played in society.  Leitis are very well known in public life for helping run churches and youth groups, and they function like housewives doing very domestic work.  The latter they also actually do for the Royal Family who not only happily welcomes their contribution, but one of the Princesses is very involved as the Association’s Patron.

Until now, it has run well but then the emergence of American-funded Evangelical Churches who are waging a campaign against the leities.  They claim that the country’s Civil Offences Act actually criminalizes cross-dressing and sodomy and that the authorities pretend not to see any of this and let everyone live in harmony. Breaking this law technically carries jail terms of up to 10 years.

Ms. Mataele has taken the fight for equal rights to the United Nations Assembly. People in Tonga are uncomfortable talking about the issue, but Ms Mataele is insisting on maintaining a very public dialogue on the whole issue. She has right on her side, plus the Royal Family, and Wilson’s film give hope.  It is a fight that all of us should be concerned about. We have seen what happens in other countries and we know that the self-righteous and bigoted Evangelicals are a determined foe.

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