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The Road Thus Far

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.

by Tepatasi  Amana’iamai’ita Vaina

Since 2009, UTOPIA Washington has grown into an empowering grassroots organization transitioning from serving only King County to now providing care and space for surrounding counties in hopes to provide for the greater 2SLGBTQIA+ community of Washington state. We had anticipated this outcome. The goal was always to build power back into our communities so they can access resources such as food, housing, education for our youth, and culturally relevant healthcare. My name is Tepatasi Amana’iamai’ita Vaina. I proudly identify as Fa’afafine, born and raised in American Samoa and I have the privilege of serving as Health Clinic Director at UTOPIA Washington.

Growing up on a small island, gender affirming care was not readily accessible. The only main hospital on the island does not even offer hormone replacement therapy. At UTOPIA, none of us have any medical or clinical backgrounds, but we have the lived experience to inform what we would need in a medical clinic. Some may argue that gender-affirming care is not necessary. But we, as Transgender people, Fa’afafine, Mahu, Vakasalewalewa, Leiti, and more, have lived experiences that beg to differ.  Gender-affirming care has been proven to improve behavioral health for a lot of our community and reduce the rate of suicide. Gender-affirming care has, overall, saved lives. In 2017, UTOPIA WA had started to discuss the possibility of having a free clinic that could provide lifesaving and gender-affirming care to Queer and Trans people. We had given ourselves a 10-year window, and in 2023 I am proud to say that we are open four years ahead of schedule.

We needed a name for the clinic that reflects our struggles but also celebrates our resiliency. Mapu Maia in Samoan is a sentiment we express to someone who has had a very long or rough journey, and you are moved to offer them a place to rest. We see the challenge our community has faced as a very rough journey. We would like to say to all our communities, ‘My dear, may we find relief in this house.’ Mapu Maia Clinic aims to provide the 2SLGBTQIA+ community with quality health care honoring all that we are. Through Mapu Maia, we hope to bridge the gap between healthcare and the 2SLGBTIA+ community.

The grand opening of Mapu Maia Clinic is a very historical and monumental moment for all of us. As of now, we are the first free clinic founded by Queer and Transgender Pacific Islanders in the state of Washington. While our clinic will have a focus on gender-affirming care, we will be providing a myriad of services that include PrEP care, HIV and STI Testing, and anything that falls under general care procedure. We are also going through a series of trainings to get our whole staff, including the director, up to speed with how to provide culturally competent care to our community. There is one thing we are not willing to negotiate on, and that is the set of values that our communities hold. That is why it is important that the staff and services at Mapu Maia Clinic reflect our very own community.

Some of the things we are working on are accessing more gender-affirming care. There are some procedures where you cannot get approved by whatever insurance you have unless you have the write-off or sign-off from a therapist. We hope to find more volunteer personnel to help with our clinic. There is still more work that needs to be done. It is our goal that through Mapu Maia Clinic, we continue to close the gap between health services and the well-being of the 2SLBTQIA+ community.

photo of a trans woman of color with a pink flower in her hair
Tepatasi Vaina was born and raised on the island of Tutuila in American Samoa. Proudly identifying as Fa’afafine, she serves on the staff of UTOPIA WA as the Program Director. Her work has been dedicated to human services; from supporting adults with developmental disabilities, mental health challenges and houseless communities to providing direct support for sex workers, she brings an array of experiences that help to inform the programs of UTOPIA WA. Tepa also holds a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology from Chaminade University of Honolulu, an accomplishment that she continues to use today if it means furthering her work and achievement.

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.