Project Run­way NZ star’s gay pride

He’stack­ling tabooswith hissoul­mate

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - Contents -

Ton­gan, gay and proud of both, Peni Moala beams as he talks about the pos­si­bil­ity of mar­riage and hav­ing chil­dren with his lov­ing part­ner Rex Cook. But the Project

Run­wayNZ star knows that if the cou­ple even hold hands in his home coun­try, they could go to jail.

“In To=nga, if you’re gay, there’s the chance of 10 years in pri­son,” says the Queen­stown re­tail as­sis­tant, 29, who moved with his fam­ily from Tonga to Aotearoa as a baby. “Some peo­ple are start­ing to ac­cept it, but it’s still very black and white – a man should marry a woman.”

When Peni came out to his re­li­gious fam­ily at 19, first to one of his seven sib­lings, he was wor­ried about be­ing dis­owned. He re­calls, “I bawled my eyes out, but my sis­ter said, ‘I knew that. I was wait­ing for you to open that door!’”

Peni was over­come with relief when his par­ents didn’t tell him to pack his bags, al­though he ad­mits, “They didn’t agree with it and said they wanted me to change, but at least they loved me and I’d opened their minds a bit. I knew they’d ac­cept it one day.”

When he moved from Auck­land to In­ver­cargill to study fash­ion five years ago, Peni met the love of his life, hos­pi­tal­ity man­ager Rex, 35. The pair locked eyes at a bar and, two wo years later, were liv­ing to­gether in Queen­stown. een­stown.

“It felt per­fect to in­tro­duce uce him to my par­ents be­cause he was the th first fi t real love for me,” says Peni. “I’ll never for­get Dad’s re­sponse when I men­tioned I was see­ing a man. He said, ‘That’s al­right. What does your mum think?’”

Now Peni’s par­ents adore their son-in-law. “Hav­ing my fam­ily love him is be­yond any­thing I could ask for,” says Peni, who adds that Rex was the first per­son he called when he heard he’d been ac­cepted for the TVNZ 2 re­al­ity se­ries.

While the two haven’t vis­ited Tonga to­gether, Rex would love to see the coun­try his beau speaks about so fondly. “It wor­ries me I wouldn’t be my­self in the com­mu­nity,” tells Peni.

But the de­signer is quick to add he’s proud of his her­itage. “That’s why I’m speak­ing out – to sup­port my Ton­gan broth­ers go­ing through the same.”

Sew in love! The run­way rebel with beau Rex. Com­ing out to his fam­ily wasn’t as hard as Peni (pic­tured at top right) first feared. “I’d opened their minds a bit. I knew they’d ac­cept it one day,” he says.

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