As a child, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa student Misimatoka Tuamasaga Unutoa and his mother, Tofaaga Levi Salatielu-Unutoa, knew he was different when he gravitated more toward women and had feminine mannerisms. When he reached his 20s, his mother had a conversation with him, asking him about his sexuality and allowing him a safe space to come out as gay.
“I didn’t think I actually needed to come out,” said Unutoa in an interview with the Hawaiʻi LGBT Legacy Foundation. “I knew that my mom already knew, so I didn’t think there needed to be an official statement.”
“It never changed the way I felt about my children, at any point in my life, at any point in their lives,” added Salatielu-Unutoa. “I just wanted them to come out and talk to us (she and her husband) about it. [Misimatoka] finally cried about it, and I said, ‘Honey, don’t cry. Get up, put your clothes on and move forward. Don’t let that be a wall or whatever in life. Push forward.’”
Support from LGBTQ+ Center
When Unutoa came out in 2022, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation began to surface in parts around the country, and he believes this is what prompted his mother to have the conversation with him about his sexuality. Unutoa credits the support from UH Mānoa LGBTQ+ Center Director Camaron Mikio Jimenez Miyamoto for preparing him to come out to his mom.
“Cam helped me develop the confidence and motivation I needed to come out,” said Unutoa. “He protects students and their safety, and he ensures we have a comfortable environment that’s free of hate and crime.”
Through the center, Unutoa was able to receive resources and support services while building a community of people that share in the same spirit as him—the highlight of his experience with the LGBTQ+ Center.
“I met a lot of people through the LGBTQ+ Center Lounge, which was a safe sanctuary for many students coming in, and the weekly Coffee Hour that the center would hold,” he said. “I also walked in my first Pride Parade ever with the center, and it was so exciting being able to wave my pride flag and be me with such a supportive group of people.”
The LGBTQ+ Center provides resources, referrals and advising and support services while striving to maintain a safe and inclusive campus environment and affirm LGBTQ+ and māhū people across the UH Mānoa campus community. Learn more at the LGBTQ+ Center website.
Family, faith building acceptance
In Unutoa and Salatielu-Unutoa’s Sāmoan culture, they embrace the queer life and respect faʻafafine, a third gender in which a biological male embodies male and female traits.
“Because my culture is so accepting and open to faʻafafine, it made it easier to have LGBTQ+ conversations with my mom,” said Unutoa. “I always gravitated towards the faʻafafine in my immediate family, and my exposure to them and their openness to their identities were super influential to who I am.”
In addition to his close family, Unutoa’s religious beliefs helped establish his accepting personality.
“My mom always brought us to church, and in Christianity, we’re taught to love everyone no matter their race, their belief system, their identity or background,” Unutoa said. “It is the culmination of my Sāmoan culture and religious beliefs that have created what I really stand for and make me more welcoming in the communities I represent.”