Find Posts By Topic

Setting the stage for UTOPIA Washington

In celebration of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, we invited UTOPIA Washington, a queer and trans people of color-led, grassroots organization, to share the story of their organization and curate a series of individual stories from their community. Read the full UTOPIA series and be sure to check out all of our AANHPI Heritage Month stories.

Written by staff of UTOPIA Washington

United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance (UTOPIA) is a queer and trans people of color-led, grassroots organization born out of the struggles, challenges, strength, and resilience of the Queer and Trans Pacific Islander (QTPI – “Q-T-pie”) community in South King County.

Since 2009, UTOPIA has worked with QTPI leaders to create a safe, welcoming, supportive, and vibrant space for members of our community to address basic needs, build pathways toward new expanded career and life opportunities, foster a sense of common purpose, and advocate for social justice, education, and overall wellness among members of the Pacific Islander LGBTQI community. We also seek to build trust and common ground as a convener and bridge-builder between the Pacific Islander community and the LGBTQI community, who often share many of the same issues and concerns.

UTOPIA is led and founded by women of color, identifying as transgender and/or fa’afafine. Fa’afafine is a cultural gender identity native to Samoa translated as “in the manner of a woman.” We approach community work through an intersectional and cultural lens. Our cultural identity plays an integral role in the way we care and fight for the liberation of queer and trans people of color.

Since its inception, UTOPIA has worked to build power and help our community members access resources, employment, stable housing, higher education, culturally competent healthcare, and more.

Taffy Maene-Johnson, Fierce Fa’afafine Leader, Executive Director and Founder of UTOPIA Washington, saw an influx of queer and Trans Pacific Islanders emigrating to the Pacific Northwest in search of opportunities and the need to address the inequities in access. These community members faced hardships in securing employment due to race and gender-based discrimination and were often pushed into sex work, low-paying hard labor jobs, and contracted out-of-state jobs where their rights as workers were violated and where there was limited access to healthcare.

How did UTOPIA come to be and what was the inspiration behind its creation?

When I moved here in 2006, it was a struggle trying to find communities where I as a Pacific islander and as a fa’afafine, a gender cultural identity native to Samoa, I didn’t see myself in a lot of spaces. I began work in organizing and community service. After contacting Neo Veavea and Julio Muao who created the UTOPIA acronym for their blessing, I chose the name UTOPIA for our organization in 2009, retiring “Polynesian” for Pacific to be inclusive of all Pacific Islanders. United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance. So you see, UTOPIA was born not only to provide space for members of our community but also build pathways towards new life opportunities and be able to advocate for social justice, leadership, and wellness around our queer, trans, and gender diverse Pacific Islander communities here in Puget Sound.

What is the importance of AANHPI Heritage Month to you and your community personally and professionally?

I think it is very important that the Pacific Islander community have this opportunity to not only educate outsiders about the different cultural groups within our community but also use it as a platform within our own community. This serves as an educational opportunity to address issues and disparities that are crucial to the well-being of our community, such as healthcare, employment, domestic violence awareness, education, financial gaps, and even addressing our invisibility. 

You know, we are a very small population in the United States, and it is also important that our presence is known. It isn’t just about celebrating Asian Pacific Islander heritage, it is about having a platform where we can celebrate our culture, our heritage, our music, and our dance. Most importantly we get to share it through our stories, and I believe that it is important that our community continue to have and create these spaces so that our community can heal through our stories.

Is there anything that you want the readers to be aware of and how they can support UTOPIA Washington?

Our communities are still experiencing hate, violence, and racial bias. So getting the message out to the public about the impact of racial bias in the Pacific Islander community is vital. So it’s very important that we continue to work together and be a voice to community, a connection, and stability in the chaos at the moment. You can support us and make a difference by donating to UTOPIA Washington. By donating, you donate your time, your energy, and your resources to UTOPIA Washington and you ensure that everyone, especially our communities, receive the support they need in a way that best serves them.

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.