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Wednesday 14 April 2010

New Caledonia couple seeks baby joy in NZ

Posted in: True Stories
By Matt Akersten - 10th December 2009

Civil Unions are now possible in New Caledonia, where hate crimes are very rare and life is generally good for LGBT people - but lesbian couple Geneviève Sutter and Joane Paidi had to visit NZ to help complete their family.

Baby hopes: Genevieve & Joane
"We want to have a baby," explains Geneviève. "And we can't have IVF treatment at home in New Caledonia. No matter how much you're willing to pay, the law doesn't allow it unless you have fertility problems. So people go to Australia or New Zealand - that's why we're here. It's very expensive but we're sure it'll be worth it."

The couple have been together for a year and a half after first meeting through friends, and are now able to get their relationship legally recognised in their home city of Nouméa since the government - "after a long battle," says Geneviève - approved civil union legislation in July.

Some of their friends were shocked when they told them they wanted a child. "People asked us 'are you sure?' But to us it was natural that we'd have a baby together." met the excited couple on the day Joane had her last IVF appointment, towards the end of their two-week stay in Auckland. "It's a very nervous time for us," Geneviève explains. We won't know if the treatment has worked until we're back in New Caledonia - we just have to hope."

Being gay in New Caledonia

Geneviève and Joane are proud to be part of New Caledonia's influential 'Homosphere' LGBT network.

Anse Vata beach in New Caledonia
The network has a five-year plan to battle HIV and discrimination against LGBT people in the French-speaking islands in the southwest Pacific, where the population is a tiny 250,000.

"Part of it will be working towards adoption rights for same-sex couples," Geneviève explains. "We're focussed on making it happen, but it will get a lot of resistance.

"Another issue is resistance from schools to introducing our anti-discrimination work. They're afraid of what we might say. Three or four years ago there was a brochure out which showed gay people having sex. It wasn't supposed to be used in schools, but a student took it to class and it caused a controversy."

Homosphere has one full-time staff member who keeps busy planning events and projects. There are six parties and gatherings each year, attracting up to 400 people. They're particularly necessary since there are no specifically gay bars or clubs on the islands. The organisation is based in Nouméa, but some of its projects, including a recent LGBT art exhibition, tour New Caledonia's other centres. Homosphere has also started a new LGBT library, which was proud to donate some New Zealand gay books to.

New Caledonia's LGBT community is strengthening, but there have been recent setbacks, says Geneviève. "We have a 'Carnivale' parade in Nouméa, but cannot have a gay parade - our conservative mayor won't allow it. Up until recently we had a phone support service, but volunteers to run it were hard to find and there weren't many calls, so it stopped. We're hoping the government will run with a new initiative which would be a sexual health info line, so that LGBT questions can be diverted to our association.

"In general though, we have a good life in Nouméa. Hate crimes are very rare, and if a gay couple is seen holding hands in the street, they are accepted. Like New Zealand, it's a friendly and beautiful place to live - and to raise a family."

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Matt Akersten - 10th December 2009