In American Samoa and Samoa, there are more than two genders, with recent events celebrating those outside the normal binary gender spectrum. Indigenous Samoans recognize the third and fourth genders as fa’afafine and fa’afatama. The fa’afafine refers to men that assume women’s traditional gender attributes. Likewise, the fa’afatama relates to women that carry men’s conventional gender attributes. Indigenous Samoans recognize the fa’afafine and fa’afatama as spiritual identities. Indigenous spiritual gender identities are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
In celebration of these identities, multiple pageants have taken place. On April 22, 2023, in the 39th Miss Society of Fa’afafine in American Samoa (SOFIAS) pageant. Miss Christian Wright Sa’alea of Matu’u and Faganenea became the 2023 pageant winner. The aim of the pageant ceremony parallels the indigenous dance ceremony of Taupo. During the Taupo, a high chief village chose Fa’afafine to entertain visitors. The grace of the fa’afafine’s gender portrayal determined the taupou’s performance excellency.
A month prior, in Seattle, Washington, another fa’afafine pageant was held—the Miss Island Goddess pageant. An American Samoan native, Paris Mae Mackie Te’o Yandall, was crowned the 2023 pageant winner. The United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance (UTOPIA) made the pageant possible. UTOPIA, founded by Fa’afafine Taffy Maene-Johnson, is an all-inclusive trans and queer organization. UTOPIA assists in contracting out-of-state employment to members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Celebrations in the face of missing protections
Despite these celebrations, American Samoa has no laws that protect LGBTQ+ members against employment discrimination. The United States and American Samoa both use the employment-at-will doctrine, which means employers can fire without a reasonable cause. In 2020, however, the US Supreme Court ruled that LGBT employment discrimination was illegal. The act used Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans workplace discrimination based on sex. This protection exists only in the contiguous United States and applies to citizens. The Civil Rights Act doesn’t apply to American Samoa for LGBTQ+ community members.
The independent State of Samoa holds a contradictory stance on LGBTQ+ employment law protections. In Samoa, it is against the law to be a gay man. But Samoa has employment law protection for members of the LGBTQ+ community. The 2013 Labour and Employment Relations Act protects against such employer discrimination. The act, however, doesn’t provide protection for the fa’afafine as it doesn’t include gender expression. American Samoa currently has no laws protecting members of the fa’afafine and fa’afatama. As awareness of record numbers of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation continues in the US, due to the lack of US federal jurisdiction, American Samoa remains the final frontier for lack of protection rights for LGBTQ+ community members within the US.