On May 6, Qpid.me CEO Ramin Bastani announced that he would be changing the name of his controversial “hula” STD alert app in the next month or so, even though a new name has not yet been selected. By making this preliminary announcement, he began to bring closure and healing to a very painful chapter in Native Hawaiian affairs. The app name was strenuously protested in an online petition which reached 4,488 signatures. Approximately 500 other people signed paper petitions during the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, thanks to the actions of two particularly hard-working women. Though Bastani undoubtedly endured a painful learning curve, we are all so grateful that we can now begin to put the matter behind us.
A sexology colleague, Dr. Heather Howard, may be the last person to sign the online petition. Hers is the last signature as of May 7th, 6:50 AM PST. Dr. Howard wrote in the comments section, “As a sexual health educator, I am interested in promoting well-being for all individuals. I have a responsibility, first and foremost, to ‘do no harm.’ Therefore, I cannot condone an application which undermines the well-being of a people.”
Exactly. This has been my point all along. From my first knowledge of this controversy I’ve been concerned as an ally to Native Hawaiian causes and as a former hula student, but also – quite importantly – as a sexologist who understands the importance of multicultural competence in clinical practice.
One of my first actions was to contact Dr. Cirecie West-Olatunji, president of the American Counseling Association (ACA), to ask for their help. Dr. West-Olatunji put me in touch with Dr. Yegan Pillay, chair of the organization’s Human Rights Committee (HRC). At that point, Clarence Kukauakahi Ching, a Native Hawaiian elder and former trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and I co-authored a hasty “white paper” to submit to the HRC. The committee began to consider the issue. On Monday, May 5th, I heard from Dr. Pillay that the HRC members had reached consensus, they were “fully supportive” of our concerns, and had drafted a letter to send to Mr. Bastani and his advisory board “strongly condemning and recommending the discontinuation of using the term ‘hula’ in the STD app” (Dr. Pillay, emails May 5 and 7).
Dr. Michael Ra Bouchard, a resident of Hawai’i, was another sexology colleague who spoke out. He too sent a letter to the ACA HRC, expressing similar concerns about the effect of this app name on Native Hawaiians. And buried within the roster of 4,488 petition signatures, another sixteen sexologists expressed their support.
It’s been a difficult spring. During this last five and a half weeks I have signed and donated to the petition, blogged, made a video, worked the social media and online groups, commented on news articles, written endless emails, bought a protest t-shirt, and have been privileged to interact with a wonderful ad hoc group of Native Hawaiian activists. I am also proud of the sexologists I know who cared enough to consider the issue and make their professional opinions known. I thank them all.
I won’t be completely at ease until the name is actually changed. And though I have taken down most of my blogs on this topic, there is definitely need for a “post-mortem” (such as this one), reflection, and acknowledgment, as well as some retention of this history of the grassroots activism so that no other entrepreneur can be tempted to make the same branding and marketing mistake.