For Jane Strang, a proud Bundjalung and Dunghutti queer woman, born and raised in the land of the Dharawal people of the Yuin Nation, First Nations representation at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has long been a source of personal pride.
"I have been coming to watch the parade since I was in my early teens, which is over a decade ago now," Strang, who is marching for the first time this year, tells SBS Pride.
"I’ve always watched the parade in awe of everyone who marched, but there’s something special about seeing representation of First Nations Queer people. As a young queer Aboriginal woman trying to find my way, I identified with the people I saw leading the parade and that was always a proud moment for me."
In honour of the 1978 protests from which the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was born, this year's Mardi Gras festival theme is 'What Matters' - presenting an opportunity for parade marchers to highlight the community concerns most important to them.
The theme is particularly apt for those marching in ACON's First Nations float, which will be branded 'What Matters? We Matter!' and highlight five key areas important to Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, determined through extensive community consultation.
These areas are:
First Nations Women
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women play a central role within the Aboriginal families, communities and in ceremony," Strang explains. "Our women represent 2 per cent of Australia’s female population but make up 34 per cent of all women in prison. There is a direct connection between the fact that 80 per cent of Indigenous women in prison are mothers and the rapidly increasing rates of the removal of Indigenous children from families into out-of-home care."
Strang adds: "The 2019 Closing the Gap report, confirmed that Aboriginal children are 10 times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to be placed in out-of-home care, continuing the cycle of intergenerational trauma our people have suffered since colonisation began."
The First Nations Trans Community
Strang tells SBS Pride: "Sistergirls, Brotherboys and other First Nations trans people deserve to be celebrated and honoured for the incredible contributions they make to the communities they are part of. We know trans and gender diverse people shoulder an immense burden of stigma and discrimination, and our trans mob is no different."
First Nations Suicide Rates
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged between 15 and 24 are almost four times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous people the same age," Strang says.
"Suicide continues to be a leading cause of death within our communities and we need to break down the barriers and stigma associated with talking about mental health as one way to address this."
Deaths In Custody
The deaths of First Nations people in custody is "a significant, heartbreaking and frustrating issue for our people," Strang explains, "with more than 424 First Nations people having lost their lives while in custody since the end of 1991 royal commission."
First Nations Health
"Changes to funding in 2016 have resulted in a reduced capacity for sexual health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities," Strang tells SBS Pride.
"Across Australia, the rate of HIV notification is 1.6 times higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population than the Australian-born non-indigenous population.
"2020 marks 12 years since the National Close the Gap strategy was launched, it has failed our people with the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australia’s widening instead of closing. On average our men are dying 10.8 years younger and our women 10.6 years younger than the non-indigenous population."
First Nations representation at the Mardi Gras parade is crucial, Strang says.
"The Mardi Gras parade and festival activities take place on Aboriginal land and its essential we give space and recognition to the Traditional Custodians of the land."
She continues: "With the live streaming of the 2020 Parade, representation and visibility of First Nations queer people is crucial for all the queer identifying mob who may be watching from home, or watching from a region or remote location, where they may not see the diversities within our community being celebrated."
"Turning on the TV or standing on the street and seeing someone you can identify with, someone who represents your community has the potential to change lives of our First Nations people."
While representation is important, it's equally important that members of the broader LGBTIQ+ community hone their allyship.
"Members of the LGBTIQ+ community who want to support First Nations voices can do so in many ways, having an understanding that First Nations people come in all different shapes, sizes, colours, sexual orientation and gender identity’s and have varied lived experiences that are all valid and important is a great place to start," Strang says.
She adds: "Ensuring your workplace, community group, event or home is a safe space where First Nations people are engaged and encouraged to lead conversations and invited to take up space is vital to the self determination of our people. Supporting Blak businesses, performers and community groups.
"Showing up as an ally, even when its uncomfortable by calling out racism, negative stereotypes and discrimination when you see it."
The Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras 2020: Live Stream will be available to watch here from Saturday, 29th February 2020 at 07:30 PM.