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Dear Honorable Senators,

I write this letter with the greatest appreciation for the hard work that you do for our island home.  I write this letter with honest intentions, but a heavy heart.  I write this letter to let express my sadness in the appointment of Dr. Taeaoafua Meki Solomona as the Director of the Department of Human and Social Services. 

Last year, after the gubernatorial elections, Dr. Solomona called a meeting for all DHSS employees. During this meeting, Dr. Solomona singled out one of my family members — Simeonica Tuiteleleapaga — and degraded her in front of the entire DHSS workforce. Simeonica Tuitelelapaga was ridiculed for being a fa’afafine — and made to feel less than human. Dr. Solomona questioned Simeonica’s integrity and insisted that Simeonica take off her clothes in front of everyone to prove whether she was a man or woman. 

This is highly unacceptable. How can we as Samoans — people who profess to place hospitality and decorum above all else — treat one of our own people this way?  We all have fa’afafine in our family.  Some of us have a fa’afafine child, some of us have a fa’afafine sibling, and others have a fa’afafine cousin or aunty or uncle. To ask a fa’afafine to take off her clothes to prove her sex is wrong, but to ask an employee to do so in front of a public audience is unbelievable. How would you feel if someone told your fa’afafine child to do that in front of their co-workers?  We should never accept this sort of tyrannical behavior.

As disgusting as Dr. Solomona’s comments were to Simeonica about her sex.  Dr. Solomona did not stop there. He went on to say “o ai sou aiga lou maile” to Simeonica, when she responded to Dr. Solomona’s questions. 

Here is the answer that Simeonica was unable to give because she was chased out of the office:

On her paternal side, Simeonica is the proud daughter to my brother Pula Teofilo Nikolao of the village of Utulei.  Simeonica is the proud grandchild of Oloalilo Ta’a Nikolao of Utulei, Fagatogo and Pago Pago  (from the Lutu, Asuega, Pulu and Fuga families) and Pula Nikolao Tuiteleleapaga Iuli of Leone, American Samoa (from the Iuli, Tuitelelapaga, and Ilaoa families). 

To answer Dr. Solomona, Simeonica is not a maile, and neither are her families.

We are God-fearing people. We practice the fa’aSamoa by participating in family faalavelave and traditions of our respective nu’u. We are hurt and enraged that someone that professes to be intelligent, God-fearing and a supposed orator of the fa’aSamoa could be so callous as to demean not just an individual, but also entire FAMILIES and LINEAGES, in one careless sentence. But at the end of the day – that is what Dr. Solomona is – he is careless and callous. 

Dr. Solomona never apologized to our family. He never took the pains to talk to any of the leaders of the families that he berated and demeaned when he said “o ai sou aiga lou maile” to Simeonica. We are her families. We are here and we are hurt. We are waiting upon le tofa mamao of the Senators to make the right decision and not confirm Dr.  Solomona for this position. 

Confirming Dr. Solomona is confirming that is OK to for people in power to speak to our children the way Dr. Solomona has spoken to Simeonica. We are allowing people in positions of power to treat our children like animals in the workplace and attack our children because of their sexuality.

We are saying it is OK for anyone in power to say to our children “o ai sou aiga lou maile!!” Confirming Dr. Solomona is telling our children that people can speak to them however they like, and there will not be any consequences.

This is about doing what is right. This is about setting the tone for how people in power can talk to their employees.  It doesn’t have to be Director or Deputy; it can be a supervisor that can abuse their power and make our children feel unsafe in the work place. Today it is about a fa’afafine. Tomorrow, we may have a male supervisor telling our daughters to remove their clothes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

You can stop it, by not confirming Dr. Solomona and sending a message to people in positions of power that they cannot degrade our children in the workplace or treat them like animals.

Thank you,

Agnes Nikolao Pula-Letuligasenoa

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This open letter to the Senators was distributed in the Senate yesterday, prior to the confirmation hearing of Dr. Taeaoafua Meki Solomona for  Director of the Department of Human and Social Services.

Mrs. Agnes Nikolao Pula-Letuligasenoa is Simeonica Tuiteleleapaga’s aunt, and in her letter she expresses her deep disappointment with the re-appointment of Taeaoafua due to the statements he made concerning her niece’s sexual orientation, as well as her family affiliations, during a DHSS staff meeting last year. These remarks were recorded, and the recording has been available on social sites, since November last year.

Mrs. Pula-Letuligasenoa told Samoa News that she tried to get the senators to listen to the recording on the floor, yesterday, but it was not allowed; and last week, during the House confirmation hearing, she tried to deliver her letter, but the House refused to accept it.

A similar letter, written by Simeonica’s uncle, Nikolao Iuli Pula Jr., was distributed to the Senate over the weekend, and was the subject of discussion during Taeaoafua’s confirmation hearing.

However during the confirmation hearing, Senate President, Gaoteote Tofau Palaie told his colleagues that the work of the Senate is not based on letters and other writings, and a senator’s decision should be based on the qualification and experience of a director-nominee. (See stories in today’s issue on the confirmation and Pulu’s letter to the senate president)

Taeaoafua was fully confirmed yesterday, in a 15-3 vote Senate vote, while the House gave its endorsement early last week.

Samoa News notes that Tuiteleleapaga, a transgender woman who has worked for many years at DHSS, has filed a sex discrimination complaint against ASG and Taeaoafua with the US Labor Department — Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. ASG asked the US EEOC to dismiss the complaint, and let it be resolved locally, however the federal agency refused, saying Ms. Tuiteleleapaga has chosen to go forward with her complaint, and the federal agency notified the local government that an investigation has been launched into the incident.

It should also be noted that the DHSS is fully funded by federal grants, and the consequences — if any — of Taeaoafua taking its helm while under a federal Labor department sex discrimination investigation is unknown at this time. ra)