KipuKai L.P. Kuali’i was born on Kauai, in Lihue, Hawaii, on March 17, 1962, to a Native Hawaiian father and a Portuguese mother. His parents met on Kipu Kai Ranch, where KipuKai lived for the first five years of his life before the family moved to a more populated area in Kauai. Through his early school years, KipuKai was teased for not being masculine enough. He focused on his grades, and in 7th grade was accepted into Kamehameha High School, a boarding school in Honolulu for native Hawaiian children. There, he gave himself his Hawaiian name KipuKai, found a passion for Hawaiian dance and music culture, and formed strong friendships in his dorms.
KipuKai left Hawaii to attend the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. There, he started exploring his sexuality. KipuKai emphasizes how his loving family helped instill a lifelong, innate self-love in him, which he could lean on as he learned what it meant to be gay.
Upon graduating, KipuKai joined Up with People, an organization with the mission to promote world peace through international theatre performances and service projects. He spent a year traveling throughout the Midwest and Europe, meeting host families and cast members from all over the world, and still deems it the best year of his life.
After Up with People, KipuKai moved into a friend’s home near Los Angeles, where he visited his first gay bar. He worked as an account clerk in West Hollywood, where he found a passion for queer activism and union organizing. KipuKai maintained a relationship with God, but started drifting away from the institution of the church. In the 90s, KipuKai got involved with Pride at Work, a civil rights protection group for queer workers. When Pride at Work opened a headquarters in Washington DC, KipuKai was invited to serve as executive director for two years. KipuKai then moved to DC with his future husband Joe, whom he had met a year prior.
After two busy years, KipuKai moved back to Hawaii with Joe in 2001. The couple stayed with KipuKai’s family, and he was grateful for the loving support Joe showed his family, which allowed KipuKai to put more energy into his community work. KipuKai started working for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, then became involved in the Hawaiian homestead movement and shifted to full-time work building a community kitchen.
In 2008, KipuKai ran for Kauai’s county council as the area’s first openly gay politician, eventually winning the seat in 2011. That year, he served as the Grand Marshall of Honolulu Pride, where he rode down the parade in a red convertible with Joe. He also participated in the “love makes a family” photo project to advocate for same-sex marriage rights in Hawaii. In 2019, he saw Kauai host their first ever pride parade and festival. In his activism and personal life, KipuKai always aims to bring the spirit of aloha — “compassion, empathy, and, primarily, kindness” — values that guide his daily life.