It is with great respect and love that SONG offers this tribute to our sister Melenie Mahinamalamalama Eleneke. It is a rare life that is guided by a personal sense of responsibility, and a true commitment to the tenants of Aloha. Melenie Mahinamalamalama Eleneke — Auntie Mel as she loved to be called – did just that. An international transgender rights activist, hula dancer and devoted auntie and sister died peacefully this month in her home in Daly City, CA.
Melenie was born on Oʻahu, Hawaii Dec. 25th, 1959. While attending Kailua High School in Honolulu, Melenie bravely transitioned to become the woman known and loved by a vast network of family, friends and colleagues. Transitioning into her life as a female at age 14, Melenie demonstrated the courage and passion that she would carry front and center for the rest of her life.
Melenie studied Social Justice at San Francisco State University, and never overlooked a chance to strap on her cha-cha heels and fight for justice. Melenie was a core leader and the director of development and administration at the TGI Justice Project, an advocacy group for transgender, gender variant and intersex individuals of color in and outside of prison. Melenie was also the editor of the TGI prison newsletter, Stiletto, and the core trainer of the TGI leadership retreats.
Her family and those around the world felt Melenie’s love and passion for justice. “She really taught us how to love unconditionally. She not only was an advocate for aloha and hula, but she also was security enforcer — she would never let anyone pick on anyone else. As an activist in the Polynesian community, as well as the gay community, she defended all of us,” stated her Nephew Tamalani Auvaʻa.
An avid performer Melenie headlined the SONG benefit show this May in Oakland, CA entitled ‘Liberation With Benefits.’ Melenie, a long time supporter of SONG, made it known she ‘came out of retirement’ to perform because she would do whatever she could however she could to support SONG, because she believed in SONG’s work and loved those who carried it out.
In 2008, Melenie’s activism reached the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland as she addressed the United Nations Committee On Gender Equity. She was proud to bring the struggle of transgender women of color front and center in her historic address to the United Nations convention on ending all forms of racial discrimination. Of course Melenie did this as only Melenie could–holding the United States accountable for its lack of economic opportunity for transgender women of color in her white knee high boots, long gloves and faux fur coat to keep her stylish and warm.
A lifelong spiritual healer, Melenie was a fierce advocate for the preservation of the culture, language and spiritual practices of the Hawaiian people. Melenie was an active member of multiple Hula groups including The Ladies of Keolalaulani Halau and the House of Valenciaga. Melenie was a founder of a hula group for Transgender woman of color always bringing grace and her spirit of Aloha to everything she did.
The root words of Aloha:
1. sharing 2. in the present 3. joyous affection 4. joy 5. life energy 6. life 7. breath
–This is what she gave and demanded. This is tribute for a friend, freedom fighter, a trans woman of color who will be missed by Hawaiian, transgender and communities who seek justice everywhere. Melenie has left a giant legacy and it is up to us all to carry it on.
Even as we celebrate Melenie’s life, we are reminded that our work continues. The night before her death she went to the hospital complaining of chest pain and they sent her home, telling her poor, uninsured, brown and trans self that she was having a panic attack. We know that countless trans women die each year because of discrimination in the healthcare system, and that far too many meet other very violent deaths. While the LGBTQ movement has millions of dollar to advocate for gay marriage, there never seems to be enough resources to support the Queer Liberation work to which trans women leaders have always been central. A critical mass of our people can change that. As Melenie was always there for us, we still can be there for her.
Melenie will be featured in the upcoming documentary MAJOR! To find out more about the film and help to make it happen visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/missmajorfilm/major-a-new-documentary-film