A Native Hawaiian for Civil Unions

Patricia A. Gozemba

Brad Ka’iwi Lum became the first Native Hawaiian chanter and kumu hula (teacher of hula) to speak out in favor of HB 444 for Civil Unions at a hearing of the Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee on February 24th. In coming out as a gay man he broke a long silence in his own life and among kumu hula.

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Brad Ka’iwi Lum
Lum has emerged as a force in the civil unions struggle. He is organizing a Candlelight Vigil against discrimination and inequality at the Hawaii State capitol on Saturday, March 7 at 6 pm.Brad’s Testimony

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Aloha Chair Taniguchi, Vice Chair Takamine and members of the committee. My name is Bradford Ka’iwi Tin Cheong Lum. I’m a Native Hawaiian Studies Teacher, Kumu Hula of Halau Hula ‘O Ka’iwi, Chanter, Historian, and Teacher of Native Hawaiian Culture. I want to take this time to thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify in strong support of HB444 HD1, the Hawaii Civil Unions Bill.

I would like to tell you my personal story of defeat and triumph as a gay Native Hawaiian, who has chosen to come out and fight for my rights under the law of the Constitution of the State of Hawaii. I was born and raised in the McCully neighborhood of Honolulu. My father was Chinese; my mother, Native Hawaiian , Irish, Dutch, English, and German.

Local music and culture were important to our family, but in 1982 I decided to leave Hawaii for San Francisco, California, to pursue a life where I could be open about who I was. I lived in San Francisco for the next 12 years. I had a secure job with a good income, and I built a network of friends and support that became my ohana.

In 1995 my father asked me to come home to take care of him and my mother. My father had diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, and an aneurism in his stomach, and my mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a hard decision to leave San Francisco, where I had built a life and a community. I really did not want to come home, but no one in the family was taking care of my parents and I felt it was my sincere duty to do this.

I returned home and went to work taking care of my mother and father. I took them to doctors and made sure they were well cared for. Because I knew they did not accept my lifestyle, I did not have a social life. I wanted to be a good son and tried my best to build trust, compassion, and love with my parents. But at the same time, I could not be the person I really wanted to be and could not have a relationship with a partner as an adult should have.

My father passed away on December 4, 1996, and my mother passed away on March 1, 2008. I did everything that I could to make sure that my parents where well taken care of and to fulfill their every wish.  But within me, there was a wounding, crippling, alienating, painful battle. In consideration of my parents, I could not be the person I am today: a prophetic leader of liberation, service, and body and spirit integration. Today I am a mentor, but I am exiled by my own family because I have made a decision to love another man and develop a deeper meaning of kinship so I can be happy and content for the rest of my life.

Many people have thanked me for changing my life for the better, for inspiring them to change their lives as well. As soon as my mother passed away, I felt I could live consciously and responsibly. I have decided to be vibrant and alive, to fully embrace my destiny, to be mindful of every moment, every encounter no matter how seemingly insignificant, and to have the potential for radical transformation of myself and my partner or even of a whole civilization.

I now consider myself as a pioneer of civil union rights for Native Hawaiians because most Hawaiians consider coming out shameful. We keep our sexual orientation a secret from the outside world, but I believe that such actions inhibit our ability to grow and have a sense of freedom. Holding this secret blocks our ability to become liberators and life-giving contributors to our island life style and to honor our contributions—big or small—to our community. When nongay people oppress us or label us, it challenges me to liberate myself: to teach love and commitment to one another, to embrace tolerance, and to claim love without the support of a dominant culture. And it teaches me not to discriminate against others, no matter their personal choices or beliefs.

As a pioneer, I am a trailblazer for others to follow. In our day-to-day struggles to survive I have become a leader not only for Native Hawaiian rights but of all people in Hawaii. I know for a fact that in coming out and becoming a model for others, I have bettered my own life and made it possible for me to contribute something important to our island lifestyle. HB 444 HD1 takes me out of the dark past that I have endured and gives me courage. It gives back to all of us the extraordinary possibilities and outrageous adventures that await if we uncross our fingers and take a deep breath and embrace our destiny to be the best we can be.

Civil Unions should be part of our society, because this change in law tells those of us who love people of the same-sex that we are part of the definition of “Ohana,” family. It’s hard for us as island people to talk about our sexuality and to support such a measure; for many of us, it is hard to come out to our family and communities. But our strength as island people is that we have “Hanohano,” tolerance, “Ha’aheo” pride, and we have “Aloha,” love. We must not discount where we come from and our Native Hawaiian roots. As a small island community, let us not ostracize people who are different. Civil Unions are about “Kuleana,” responsibility, and “Malama,” taking care of each other and, most importantly, “Ho’omalu,” protecting the good for all people in Hawaii.

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4 responses to “A Native Hawaiian for Civil Unions

  1. Aloha Kumu Lum,

    I too consider myself as a Native Hawaiian of the island of Moloka’i. I love learning my Hawaiian Culture and at forty years am starting to learn my own language, something that was taken from us wrongfully. I too dont judge people by their color, religion as well as sexaul orientation. When it comes to Ke Akua, i feel our culture is the closest to his his ways and his language. that sounds conceded, I know, but We “no moa bad kine words” in our language like other language do, you know the “F” word and all the pilau stuffs. We are a people of love, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE! we love no matter what…. God has the last say. And in this issue of civil union rights, We need to honor Ke Akua, and show respect for him, his creations, his laws, we are his children. Like a wise parent that wants his child to learn the values of respect, love, civility, malama, ha’aha’a and a pela aku, so does Ke Akua, but his love is greater and we as humans can not fully comprehend, except a handful, his love for us, but to believe in it and be guided by it and and learn of it and share it with everyone. I am one voice right now, alone, literally. but many that stand for what is truth. We are created in the image of God, and his plan for us is to be a family, with a loving mommy, and daddy as the head of the household. I dont judge you as a person or human. I have lots of friend that are Gays and I love them because they are my friends. But I stand up to them when it comes to civil rights. Yes you have every right to fight for your happiness. I oppose the civil rights union. this will take the freedom away from others that want to practice what is civil. This will be a catalyst for other immoral acts to claim their acts as moral if they have a good reason. I need to speak out as much as you came out, and that took alot of courage on your part. But Ke Akua is real….His son Jesus Christ is real, This I know in my “na’au” that there will be natural calamities that will incur if this bill is passed. God speed.

  2. I just have one word to say in regards to Kalei’s comment: ??mene!

  3. Oops, apparently, this website doesn’t recognize the Hawaiian grammar, but it said, ‘Amene! 🙂

  4. I am a Native Hawaiian who supports kumu Lum. The power of religion is that it can be summoned to legitimize hatred or unequal treatment. You need only look to history for examples. The LGBT community has suffered enough under this oppression and their dignity is long overdue. I know this in my “na‘au” too.

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