by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance (U.T.O.P.I.A.) Seattle announced this week the organization's newly elected 2015 board of directors. U.T.O.P.I.A. welcomes Tanya Rachinee as the new U.T.O.P.I.A. Chair and Vice Chair Lory Lealie'e Suluai. In addition Treasurer Isyss Viena and Secretary: Fania Sipili.
The new leadership replaces past Treasurer Ului Teulilo, Secretary Kalani Young, Vice President Chase Nahooikaikakeolamauloaokalani Silva and President Taf Mae.
U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle is a charitable association of volunteer members that work against the plight of discrimination in regards to sexual orientation and gender identity. They work to promote and enhance diversity appreciation within the Seattle/Tacoma community by providing educational opportunities, foster cultural appreciation, and provide guidance and counseling to the LGBTQ Pacific community in Washington state and the Pacific Northwest.
Rachinee, a Transgender woman and owner of the Ballard Thai Cuisine restaurant Root Table, says that after the initial shock wore off she feels 'truly honored to be elected as the new President of U.T.O.P.I.A.' and added that she is 'thankful and so very honored to be a part of this wonderful and loving family.'
Family is a word that is appropriate when describing this close group of advocates, activists, and volunteers. Although you do not have to be from the Pacific (Rachinee is originally from Thailand and she serves as Chair), the group's leadership has traditionally been made up of Native Hawaiians, Samoans, and Tongans. Although Census report data shows the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander demographic is one of the fastest growing in the nation, they make up only a small minority or percentage in Washington state. Within that already marginalized population exists the even less represented LGBTQ members of the community.
But you won't find any sad story when looking to U.T.O.P.I.A. Due to strong leadership over the years and the greater local Asian and Pacific Islander (A/PI) LGBTQ and allied community's acceptance of the organization, you will find a very healthy and thriving organization.
MISS U.T.O.P.I.A. PAGEANT
The organization's annual drag pageant is one of the best, if not the best, in town with nearly 500 people in attendance to see which queen will be crowned Miss U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle.
Rachinee is a past Miss U.T.O.P.I.A., having won the crown in 2011, her reign is best known for the beauty and grace she displayed as ambassador for the organization.
Past Miss U.T.O.P.I.A.'s such as Marion Malena (2012) and Atasha Manila (2013) did their part to keep U.T.O.P.I.A. on the minds of community members and in the eyes of donors. Both entertainers perform so well it would not be an exaggeration to say that they are legendary within the community and remain popular amongst fans and friends even now. The amount of outreach and visibility the two Miss U.T.O.P.I.A.'s earned, resulted in the fostering of both new and old relationships and brought a greater social understanding of the pageant, the organization, and community of diverse people that make up U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle.
The reigning Miss U.T.O.P.I.A Seattle 2014-15, Layla Manila, is doing well and continues to display the good intentions and inclusive nature U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle embodies. It's not easy to display the poise and grace one must have to fill the shoes, or heels, of the queens that reigned before her, however, Layla Manila seems to be doing fine thus far.
RACHINEE EMERGES AS A STRONG LEADER
The first thing most people see when they meet Rachinee for the first time is how beautiful she is. Soft-spoken, but firm in her beliefs, she is a genuinely loving person. You'd be hard pressed to find someone that dislikes her because she smiles at nearly everyone she meets, educates people about Trans* issues whenever she gets the chance and has never lashed out at the community with malice. In other words, she doesn't create enemies and she makes a difference without being loud about it. If you can't tell by now - she's a gem and Seattle's LGBTQ community is lucky to have her.
Aside from running and owning Root Table, and outside of her duties as U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle Chair, Rachinee is involved in Trans* advocacy, works with Official Pride ASIA Seattle, performs in local benefit shows to raise money for LGBTQ causes, and lives with her longtime boyfriend Justin Thayer. She may seem busy, but she is centered and that makes for a good leader. Already, Rachinee is showing that she is taking the role as Chair seriously.
'I will do my very best to drive our organization toward our fundamental goal,' Rachinee told supporters on Facebook this week, adding, 'I truly believe that we can do great things.'
Last month, even before she was elected Chair of U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle, Rachinee announced the launch of U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle's monthly support group. Each month the group will meet from 4-6 p.m. at a different location. The kickoff meeting, scheduled for February 16, will take place at Root Table (2213 NW Market St.). Rachinee says that light snacks and beverages will be provided.
'All ethnicities, races, genders and sexual orientations are welcome,' she said. 'It's a safe space for all.'
Allies are welcome too, Rachinee said.
The support group is in line with U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle's mission to create a safe space for Pacific Islander LGBTQ communities in advocating for social justice, education and overall wellness. Rachinee says that the group will discuss many different topics but, mostly, just meet to check in with each other and make sure everyone is doing okay. She knows that taking care of each other is important if they are going to have any real chance to help others.
'We meet once a month to share and discuss our victories, struggles, vulnerabilities, and everyday life in a safe and supportive environment,' she said.
Rachinee is assisted by one of the support group's mission directors, Kalani Young.
If you have any questions or would like to speak to someone about the group, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or TanyaRachinee@hotmail.com.
HONORING PAST LEADERSHIP
There was a time when U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle had to prove itself. As a new LGBTQ advocacy organization on the block, it was important for them, like it is for any current newly formed coalition, nonprofit, club or group, to form lasting relationships with others that share the same interests, build resources, and promote the organization all at the same time. It is exhausting and if it is not done right, you can be over as soon as you start. Fortunately for Seattle's LGBTQ community, U.T.O.P.I.A. was in good hands.
'I really need to acknowledge the leaders from our past,' said Rachinee. 'Thank you for all the time and hard work you've done for this organization. I love you all.'
One of those leaders is Chase Silva.
Past U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle vice Chair, Chase Silva, has worked hard to partner other organizations with U.T.O.P.I.A., co-hosted the pageant twice, and served as a leader in the organization for nearly five years. Outside of U.T.O.P.I.A., he famously took on Facebook late last year when the social media network discriminated against him, challenging his middle name's legality because it was ethnic. His middle name is Nahooikaikakeolamauloaokalani and, despite showing proof of this with official documents, he was told by Facebook officials to change his middle name or move on. It was terribly racist and anyone that knows Silva - best known as a live vocalist and nightly host of karaoke events in Seattle - will tell you that he is not the type to walk away from a fight if his convictions are challenged. Needless to say, he won and has been able to use his real name - all 29 letters of it that is!
In addition, Silva is a founding member of Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), a social justice nonprofit that takes on issues that are important to the local community, is the 2012 Pride Idol singing competition winner, and has performed singing the National Anthem at City Hall, professional sports events and rallies for equal rights.
Silva is not alone, of course; a great many volunteers with the organization - some elected to leadership while others helped in whatever way they could to make an event a success or the organization stronger - have passed through the pages of U.T.O.P.I.A.'s history. None more, however, than a woman that everyone considers the mother of the organization: Taffy Lee Maene.
'Taffy, you are one heck of a lady,' Rachinee said in a public post thanking one of U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle's founders and lead organizer. 'You did an amazing job for this organization. Without you, we couldn't stand where we are right now. You are truly an inspiration and have large shoes to fill.'
U.T.O.P.I.A. was organized in 2007 after a tsunami convinced many fa'afafine to move to the states. (fa'afafines, according to Dr. Vena Sele, an icon of the Samoan community, is the acceptable definition the Samoan culture gives Transgender folks from the islands).
According to Taffy, in a 2010 interview with Seattle Gay News, 'After the tsunami, we did a benefit show in Kent.' The show was such a success, it convinced Taffy and others that Seattle could have its very own U.T.O.P.I.A. chapter.
U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle was formed in 2009, says Taffy, by a group of volunteers who realized that change around social justice, education and wellness needed to be addressed and implemented for Pacific Islander LGBT communities in the Pacific Northwest.
'U.T.O.P.I.A. was officially founded in San Francisco,' said Taffy, adding, 'We have chapters in Hawaii and New York.'
'It's about unity and strength and sharing our culture with the community,' she said.
Dr. Sele, an educator, activist, and author who is affectionately known as 'Mama' to her younger protégés in the Samoan LGBT community, helped guide Taffy and others as they launched U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle.
According to Taffy, the work that U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle does is an extension of the work she would be doing in Samoa.
'Back home, fa'afafine are known for charitable work,' she said.
Taffy spent a lot of her time doing charitable work since 2007. Her house became known as being more like a shelter for the younger generation of U.T.O.P.I.A. A safe-space where they come together like family.
Under her leadership, since its inception, U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle has sponsored events ranging from educational panels and workshops for Pacific Islander students and families at SSCC, the widely popular annual beauty pageant Miss U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle, and participating in the Seattle Pride Parade in downtown Seattle. She is particularly proud of the tremendous support the organization has committed to fostering a sense of community by pledging monetary contributions, time and other vital resources to community organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle Gay News would like to congratulate the new leadership at U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle and wish you luck and also thank the outgoing leadership team for all the great community work they have done. We wish you all the best!
For more information about U.T.O.P.I.A. Seattle you can contact them via email at email@example.com or go to their officials Facebook page at www.facebook.com/utopiaseattle.
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