“Our people are marginalised because we are black, because we are queer Aboriginals and we’re further marginalised because we ourselves put up with bullying in the LGBTI community,” says Out Black co-convenor bryan Andy.
Andy is one of many LGBTI Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people calling out the mainstream queer community, saying there are not enough safe spaces for Indigenous people.
Advocates want LGBTI support services such as Victorian AIDS Council, QLife, Safe Schools, ACON and others to provide the right support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The calls come after a rough few months for queer Indigenous people.
In December, the death of 13-year-old Tyrone Unsworth shocked the LGBTIQ and Indigenous communities after he took his own life after facing alleged homophobic bullying.
More recently, federal funding was cut for the Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council (NTAHC) and Queensland’s 21-year-old Indigenous sexual health program, 2 Spirits.
This despite an increase of new HIV diagnoses in Indigenous people over the past five years, including nine new cases in the first half of 2016 in Queensland alone.
Indigenous LGBTIQ communities “have unique healthcare needs that relate to addressing their sexuality and gender identity concerns”, according to NTAHC director Kim Gates. “They face significant levels of stigma, discrimination and social exclusion.”
2 Spirits’ promotion officers Phillip Sariago and Brett Mooney said they are reluctant to send Indigenous LGBTI people to mainstream services.
“The 2 Spirits Program is very mindful of what external services or agencies we refer our clients to, out of fear they could do more harm than good in meeting our client's needs,” they say. “Many of these services do not have expertise or culturally appropriate frameworks to engage with or support our communities.”
Living as a queer Indigenous person means belonging to two of the most disenfranchised groups in Australia with LGBTI and Indigenous people experiencing some of the highest rates of suicide in the country.
While there is no specific data on the numbers of queer Aboriginal and Torres Strait suicides, anecdotal evidence and comparative data from Indigenous Canadians suggests it is a critically high number.
For Indigenous people to engage with LGBTI support services it is vital those services make them feel safe and that they understand Indigenous culture, according to long-time social services worker, Peter Waples-Crowe.
“When we walk through the door we have the historic issues about being Aboriginal and not being treated very well. We’re really sensitive to discrimination,” Crowe, a Ngarigo and Koori man says.
“There are cultural needs that are there; we are communal by nature, our families are really important to us, we’re not an individual. It’s our interaction with our community that really counts.
“We don’t often fit the stereotypes of what people think is Aboriginal. We have to fit the stereotypes people have about us in their heads.”
SBS Sexuality reached out to some of Australia’s leading LGBTI support organisations including; Safe Schools Coalition, QLife and Minus 18 to ask if they thought they were doing enough.
Almost all agreed they could do a better job, but they were open to consulting with members of the Indigenous LGBTI community to improve their cultural awareness.
QLife is a national phone and webchat service run in partnership with four local LGBTI services around Australia. Its national program manager Stella Topaz says its volunteers and staff receive training “on cultural sensitivity, and about intersecting identities”.
“There is definitely more that QLife can, and should do… to make sure we meet Reconciliation Australia principles, and to keep working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she said.
Micah Scott is the CEO of youth organisation Minus 18 who will for the first time, have a paid Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Advisory group in 2017.
“There is a long way for us to go to be an inclusive organisation,” he says.
“Being a peer led organisation, we rely heavily on young people volunteering their time and using their personal experiences and narratives to drive projects.
“We know we need to create a space where they feel more included and are represented within that space.”
Many LGBTI Indigenous people have said that while they have been sought out to help create programs in mainstream organisations in the past, the efforts have come too late or loaded with preconceived ideas of what they should be.
“When it comes to a human rights based approach of Aboriginal people you need to think about them in a collective sense,” bryan Andy said.
“A lot of the services are bound by the individual approach to service and for Indigenous rights it becomes a bit a murky.”
Tanya Quakawoot co-founded Brisbane’s IndigiLez to help improve the lives of Indigenous lesbians.
To improve mainstream services for LBGTI Indigenous people Quakawoot says they must be included in policy and program development.
“Our issues are complex,” she says. “The success of 2 Spirits programs is evident… programs are inclusive, educational because they embraced culture and identity in promoting healthy lifestyles for our mob.”
The solution is very simple according to many LGBTI Indigenous advocates.
Dameyon Bonson – founder of Black Rainbow, a dedicated LGBTI Indigenous suicide prevention organisation – sums it up very succinctly.
He stresses the importance of including Indigenous people in making decisions about their care.
“The best tip I can give is this, if you are sitting around the table making decisions and there isn't an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional peer at the table, stop. Go get one,” he says. “Start making those relationships.”