The small township of Bourke in far western New South Wales is a small speck of dust swimming in a vast ocean of ruby red dirt and is home to the Barkindji people since time immemorial.
Every summer a wave of heat unfurls over the region, coming in from a flat scrub thick with twisted saltbush and gum trees.
I was born and bred on this magnificent country, and summertime is one of my most cherished memories.
The other memory that I hold from my childhood is not as endearing. Often it’s a nightmare that still wakes me in a cold sweat in the dead of night.
It’s the memory of feeling like an alien in the country that my ancestors have been caretakers of for millennia. Of not feeling like a man, or what I thought an Aboriginal man was supposed to be.
I vividly remember starting to be attracted to other boys when I was around 12 years old. It was a feeling that made my blood run cold.
I often thought of death through my teenage years. The thought of being gay was almost too much to bear. I used to imagine all the ways I could kill myself, every conceivable scenario, what I would write on my suicide note. There was a dark jungle of confusion inside me and I couldn’t see my way clear of it.
I stood alone, frozen with fear, for a very long time at the intersection of racism and homophobia.
“Abo, faggot, poofter, coon, half-caste.” I was singled out by all and still carry scars left by volleys of verbal shots levelled at me by angry boys and men throughout those years. Even now, as I write this, a tear balloons in the corner of my eye.
It wasn’t until I moved to Sydney that I found freedom among the concrete towers and in the loving embrace of older staunch gay black men, women and sistergirls. They taught me I was exactly how I was meant to be, that we have existed in our beautiful culture since the very beginning.
Many of them have since passed, gone too young and without social acceptance. They were giants in my eyes, and I stand on their shoulders, but the pain was too much for them. I miss them dearly.
I have survived, my community and family have embraced me and I am loved. It would be an injustice if I didn’t raise my voice.
Young Aboriginal people struggling with their sexuality are in unimaginable pain, they are our brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews.
They bear the burden of being the most vulnerable group of people in the country. They are killing themselves, it’s a fact.
We have pulled together as a community for decades for civil rights. We have marched down streets arm in arm, chanting in unison as the police gas canisters, batons and fists rained down upon us.
We have walked away from indentured slavery on remote outstations and sat on the land and refused to move until we got justice.
We are a strong people. We are survivors.
Now, as a community we need to raise a fist for our young people who are struggling with their sexuality.
We need to draw on that spirit and stand up to the homophobia in our community, a concept that was delivered to us through sermons by missionaries that stole us from our families and forced us to believe our own culture was sinful.
Do not let our black voice be muffled in this same-sex marriage debate; we know how to fight for what’s right. We have the ability to survive against all odds.
There are young people looking to you to do the right thing – it’s not just about voting yes, it’s about showing that you believe they are a cherished and an important part of our Aboriginal community. It’s an acknowledgment that could have saved countless brothers and sisters who could not see their way out of the darkness.
Vote yes for our dignity and because it’s the right thing to do.