LGBT rights in Tonga

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StatusMale illegal, female legal
PenaltyUp to 10 years imprisonment (not enforced)
Discrimination protectionsNone
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex relationships

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Tonga face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Homosexuality is illegal in Tonga, with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, but the law is not enforced.[1]

Tongan society is very socially conservative and highly religious. The Tongan Government requires all religious references on broadcast media to conform to mainstream Christian beliefs.[2] The mixture of conservative values and colonial-era laws has resulted in a climate of fear, discrimination and homophobia for LGBT people. Along with Kiribati, Tonga is the only Polynesian country to not have signed or expressed support for the 2011 "joint statement on ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity" at the United Nations, which condemnes violence and discrimination against LGBT people.[3]

Many gay and lesbian Tongans emigrate to Australia or New Zealand in order to live a more open life that they may not get to experience in their native land.


Tonga, much like the rest of Polynesia, used to be very tolerant of same-sex relationships and transgender people before the arrival of Christianity.[4]

The arrival of the European missionaries in the late 18th century quickly changed societal acceptance, and the first anti-gay laws in Tonga were enacted. The missionaries converted the local population to Christianity.[4]


Traditionally, Tongan culture has been supportive of transgenderism in the form of the fakaleiti (also known as the fakafefine; literally like a lady). The fakaleiti, similarly to the fa'afafine of Samoa and the māhū of Hawaii, are people who were assigned male at birth but act, dress and behave as female. They have traditionally been accepted by Tongan society. However, in modern times, Tonga has a powerful religious community, and recently has seen a rise in fundamentalism and religious fanaticism. As such, the fakaleiti tend to face regular discrimination and stigma, despite being an integral part of Tongan society.[5] Cross-dressing is illegal in Tonga under laws inherited by the former British Empire.[6]

The fakaleiti traditionally would play an important domestic role in Tonga communal life, and would often be called upon to aid the royal family.[5]

Despite discrimination and harassment, the fakaleiti community organises an annual transgender beauty pageant competition called the Miss Galaxy Pageant, which is sponsored by the Tonga Government and local businesses.[5]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Male consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Tonga under the Criminal Offences Act with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. The offenders may also be whipped as a punishment if convicted.[7]

Section 136. Sodomy and bestiality. Whoever shall be convicted of the crime of sodomy with another person ... shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any period not exceeding ten years....

Male rape is also illegal in Tonga:

Section 137. Assault with intent to commit sodomy. It is an offence for a person to assault another person with intent to commit sodomy.
Section 138. Indecent assault on man. It is an offence for a person to make an indecent assault on a man.
Section 139. Attempted sodomy, indecent assault upon a male. Whoever shall attempt to commit the said abominable crime of sodomy or shall be guilty of an assault with intent to commit the same or of any indecent assault upon any male person shall be liable at the direction of the Court to imprisonment for any term not exceeding 10 years.
Section 140. Evidence. On the trial of any person upon a charge of sodomy or carnal knowledge it shall not be necessary to prove the actual emission of seed but the offence shall be deemed complete on proof of penetration only.
Section 142. Whipping for certain offences. Whenever any male person shall be convicted of any offence against sections ... 136 and 139 of this Act the Court may, in its discretion in lieu of or in addition to any sentence of imprisonment authorised under this Act order the person so convicted to be whipped in accordance with the provisions of section 31 of this Act.

Decriminalisation efforts[edit]

In late 2016, the Tonga Leitis Association, an LGBT advocacy group, launched a national consultation with governments officials in order to decriminalise homosexuality and cross-dressing.[8]

According to the Attorney General, there have, as of 2016, never been any sodomy convictions on consensual same-sex activity.[8]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Tonga does not recognize same-sex unions in any form.[9]

Living conditions[edit]

Tongan society is very socially conservative and highly religious. In addition, it has recently seen a rise in fundamentalism and religious fanaticism, which has been associated with an increase in hatred and discrimination towards LGBT people and fakaleitis.

Much like the rest of Polynesia, public displays of affection tend to be frowned upon, regardless of sexual orientation.[10]


There is an LGBT association known as the Tonga Leitis Association, which is headed by Joey Mataele, an influential individual in Tongan society. In 2018, Cyclone Gita, which destroyed the Tonga Parliament building, damaged the organisation's drop-in centre and shelter.[11]

The 2012 Summer Olympics flag-bearer for Tonga was openly gay Amini Fonua. Fonua has become an advocate for LGBT rights, speaking with Tongan government officials about the need to reform Tonga's colonial-era laws that criminalise homosexuality.[12]

In 2018, Frederica Tuita Filipe, daughter of Princess Royal Salote Mafileʻo Pilolevu Tuita, expressed her opposition to homophobia and discrimination.[13]


According to 2017 estimates from UNAIDS, there were about 400 transgender people in Tonga.[14]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (For males; not enforced)/Yes (For females)
Equal age of consent No (For males; not enforced)/Yes (For females)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (Incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Tonga
  2. ^ "Tonga travel advice - GOV.UK". Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  3. ^ "Over 80 Nations Support Statement at Human Rights Council on LGBT Rights » US Mission Geneva".
  4. ^ a b Polynesia's ancient same-sex acceptance
  5. ^ a b c A time to shine for Tonga's silenced leitis
  6. ^ Leitis: Tonga's transgender community fights for visibility from the conservative Pacific Kingdom
  7. ^ "Criminal Offences". Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  8. ^ a b LGBT community calls for change in conservative Tonga
  9. ^ "Tonga". Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  10. ^ Tonga. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  11. ^ Cyclone seriously damages Tonga LGBTI center, shelter
  12. ^ Gay Tongan Olympic swimmer talks activism, career
  13. ^ Smith, Lydia (10 May 2018). "Tonga royal family member speaks out against rugby player Israel Folau's anti-gay views". PinkNews.
  14. ^ Country factsheets: Tonga 2017