Project Runway NZ star’s gay pride
He’stackling tabooswith hissoulmate
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.