An Auckland transgender activist and artist is calling for an apology from the National Rugby League (NRL) team Wests Tigers after “unsafe” social media posts were made by two of its players.

Self-proclaimed mother of the voguing group House of Iman Jaycee Tanuvasa featured on the cover of the Herald’s Viva magazine along with fellow members including Antony Sua to celebrate Auckland Pride Festival last month. It was seen as a significant moment for the queer Pasifika community.

But the cover image was edited by Sydney-based Tigers player Shawn Blore by replacing Sua’s face with that of another Tigers player, Michael Chee Kam, and shared to their Instagram Stories with laughing emojis.

After calling out the posts on Twitter, Tanuvasa wants to see a public apology from the team, and for the wider NRL community to clarify what it is doing to support the queer community.

“I’m not trying to ridicule these boys’ careers, I just want some ownership of their behaviour and for them to understand that this is not okay,” she told the Herald.

“People are already making fun of us, already bully us for who we are.

“When you see Pacific Island leaders, male leaders, perpetuate that, what that does is validate those violent behaviours towards us and encourages it even more. Any mockery of our authentic lives will continue to add to the violence of us in our daily lives.”

House of Iman describes itself as “a competing ballroom house in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Australia”. The group is known for voguing – a type of dance form and wider culture.

Tanuvasa said there have been many times House of Iman has been ridiculed, called derogatory terms, or even had items thrown at them.

The Wests Tigers are role models, so their social media presence is very important, she said.

“If they are laughing at us, then a lot of young people will say, ‘these lives are not worthy of anything else other than laughter and ridicule’, and it has been true.”

Viva fashion and creative director Dan Ahwa said he was disappointed with the posts.

“To see the way that they were dismissed on social media by those NRL players is quite heartbreaking.

“For a lot of those sportspeople, they are high profile, they have a bit of influence, so they have to be really careful about how they post on social media.”

Ahwa said the cover story was a significant step for House of Iman members – to have visibility and be recognised not just as performers but as people.

Tanuvasa is calling for an updated policy within the NRL focusing on the queer community. She wants to see how the Wests Tigers will make sure situations like the Instagram Stories do not happen again.

“Just really making that clear for the community, so that the wider community that isn’t rainbow understands what is unacceptable behaviour and why.”

Ahwa supports her call.

“We do support our rainbow communities. A lot of creatives are from the rainbow community so it’s very important for us to make sure we work together with them.”

Information on the NRL’s support for the LGBT community does not appear to be updated since 2018.

Tanuvasa said there has been no communication from the Wests Tigers about the issue.

The Wests Tigers were approached for comment but did not respond by time of publication.

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