Participants in Melbourne’s NAIDOC Week Pride Night say they want to show the next generation of people like them that a community is ready and waiting to accept them.
Pride Night was the very first event in the NAIDOC calendar created to celebrate the LGBTIQ+ community when it began in 2017.
But from just a handful of people turning out for that first performance, it has since grown into a major event for the broader Indigenous community.
SBS News attended this year's event in Melbourne on Thursday to meet some of the participants.
Stone Motherless Cold, Drag queen, 21
A member of the Arrernte community from Alice Springs, Stone Motherless Cold is a 21-year-old drag queen who identifies as gender non-binary.
Stone moved away from her hometown at a very young age but the idea of going back to visit family has never been an easy one.
“I’ve been told that if I was to go back to Alice Springs, I’d have to just quiet down the queerness, just a bit of carefulness I’d have to apply.”
“It’s a bit daunting because I want to go visit my family, but I want to feel safe on my own country.”
I’ve been told that if I was to go back to Alice Springs, I’d have to quiet down the queerness.
- Stone Motherless Cold
Stone says the combination of being Aboriginal and LGBTIQ+ generally does not make for an easy life.
“There’s a lot of blackfellas that are like, ‘If you’re queer, why are you acting white? Why are you like this? It’s not in our culture’, but that’s generally the wrong case.”
“Then in the dating world, you’re either fetishised and people only like you if you’re black, or you’re on the other side, and there’s people who are like, ‘I only like white people, no blacks, no Asians, no fats, no femmes’.”
Since moving to Melbourne for university, Stone has come to embrace both sides of that identity and has found a level of community support never enjoyed before.
That support network is a big part of why Stone does drag – to show the next generation of young, Indigenous LGBTIQ+ people there is a likeminded community ready and waiting to accept them.
“For me, to be performing on a night like this for NAIDOC Pride, or just performing in general and being an Indigenous queen on stage where there’s not that many, is so hopefully young Indigenous queers can be like, ‘Oh, that’s for me as well,’ or ‘I can be in this community, I’m accepted’,” they say.
“Just being able to see people like you out in the world and telling you it’s okay for you to be out in the world like who you are, as a person - it’s necessary and it’s needed.”
Adam Francis - Astro, Dancer, 36
Adam Francis, 36, is a gay Ngarrindjeri man from South Australia who dances professionally under the stage name ‘Astro’.
Adam says he was fortunate to grow up in a loving and proud Aboriginal household that fully embraced his identity. His schoolmates, however, were not so supportive.
“Going into then schooling and things like that, that’s when I really started to struggle because I think it was then identifying myself,” Adam says.
“One, I’m black. Two, I’m queer. And that, there, was always shunned upon. We were always laughed at, there was always racist remarks.”
One, I’m black. Two, I’m queer. And that was always shunned upon.
- Adam Francis - Astro
Showing a talent for dance from a young age, Adam’s family supported him to make the move to Melbourne, where he became the first Indigenous student to enrol on the Victorian College of the Arts’ dance program.
Adam says having that creative outlet throughout his life has made all the difference.
“For me it was always about being truthful to yourself, and I think deep down I use that tactic now to show the people ‘Yes, that was a negative, but I’m turning that now into a positive, because this is who I am, and this is who I need to be,” he says.
“A lot of the processing of all of this – I’ve struggled a lot with that myself – so I think this creative outlet, identifying that, and reaching out to others, showing that this can – through all that process of dealing with mental health – this can help as a creative outlet for that.”
Now Adam’s focus is shifting towards guiding younger members of his community who might be struggling, as he once did, through their own journey.
That’s why he believes pride nights are so important.
“Because of the struggle of where I’ve been – I’ve been in that dark place, I’ve seen that – and now I think I’m turning myself into showing and teaching others and being that mentor,” he says.
“We all need to just come together and be one big community and be able to celebrate and enjoy what is pride and what is to be proud and be Indigenous and be part of the umbrella of sexuality.”
Indiah Money, Drag King, 22
Born into the Wiradjuri community, 22-year-old Indiah Money is an up and coming drag king who identifies as gender non-binary.
Indiah grew up on the Mornington Peninsular and was not able to come to terms with their sexuality until moving to Melbourne a few years ago.
“Where I grew up on the Mornington Peninsular is statistically the whitest place in Victoria, and I think that’s very important to talk about in relation to Aboriginality and to queerness.”
“And it was very homophobic, very transphobic … and I was so homophobic and biphobic towards myself.”
Growing up, I was so homophobic and biphobic towards myself.
- Indiah Money
Indiah says there is a belief that traditionally, Aboriginal communities had a far more fluid understanding of gender than many do today.
“What I find most interesting about the intersection and the support is that I think back to aunties and uncles who have told me stories from community before colonisation.”
“Gender wasn’t the way we see it now, and gender really is a colonial construct that we’ve all been forced into – these two binaries – which to me is so bizarre.”
Indiah believes the first step to creating a more supportive arena for Indigenous LGBTIQ+ people is to make the community visible.
“I think that it’s so important to come to events like this because I feel like I’m showing up for both my communities and highlighting that not only do we exist, but we’re more than visible, and we’ve been here for a very long time.”
Mark Nannup, NAIDOC Week Pride Night founder
With about half of all LGTBIQ+ people likely to experience some form of psychological distress in their lives, and Indigenous youth suicide rates sitting at five times the national average, organisers of Pride Night say there is also a deeper meaning behind the fun and frivolity.
Mark Nannup, the 30-year-old Yamaji Noongar man who created the very first Pride Night in 2017, says he believes events like these can make all the difference.
“Growing up in WA, surprisingly I didn’t relaise until a lot later in life who was gay – we used to talk to each other and be like ‘that Uncle, he talks funny’ – we didn’t know what gay was,” he says.
“So I think [Pride Night] will provide pathways for anyone in a remote town that will see this and go, ‘That’s something I want to do, that’s something I want to be a part of, that’s something I want to get into’, and we’ll be here with open arms.”
A member of the LGTBIQ+ community himself, Mark pushed and pushed for the NAIDOC Week committee to make the Pride Night an official part of the calendar.
“When we first started I think there was like 15 to 20 people that came,” he laughs.
“A lot of elders come to these events now, and that means the world to us – to see our elders come to these events to support us.”
A lot of elders come to these events now, and that means the world to us.
- Mark Nannup
Knowing firsthand the struggles of many young Indigenous LGBTIQ+ people, Mark says he and the other organisers keep pouring their time into these events to know others have support.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can empower young people so they don’t do self-harm, that is something I guess we all kind of struggle with,” he says.
“Too many of our people are taking their own lives at such a very young age, and we’re just a whole bunch of young people who are very passionate about making sure that our community stays alive.”
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or a local Aboriginal Health Service, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (up to age 25). Indigenous Australian psychologist services can be found here. A list of LGBTIQ+ services can be found at ReachOut.com
NAIDOC Week is marked 7-14 July and celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For more stories on NAIDOC celebrations around the country go to sbs.com.au/nitv/naidoc
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