The struggle to be heard in our own communities is a sad plight. Where one remains unheard there arises the risk factor of marginalisation. As our peoples need to be heard in every facet and layer of life on this continent so too must LGBTI be heard at every layer among our peoples.
Our communities are as diverse as the voices beholden to them. From the outside looking in we are sometimes seen as the same. This just despairs us to tears. Homogeneity and hegemony are the byproducts of a one size fits all view. Diversity is an imperative that every layer of human existence needs to respect if we are to function in interrelationships.
Personally, I, as a gay man, experience this same one size fits all view within our communities. You kind of become accustomed to it after a while. We become a fringe group within. This of course is very much a generalisation, because it does not apply to most of us. Not as people. But when part of a larger system it is more often than not.
I have been working in upstream suicide prevention for close to four years. When I contemplate that we are contributing to the betterment of our mob whether is it in the areas of health, housing, sports, the arts, I realise that strivings in itself are preventative and protective actions and factors in reference to suicide prevention and to the prospect of social and emotional well-being. Working in upstream suicide prevention just becomes more focused and more purposeful.
Over time I became more focused and purposeful within suicide prevention with a particular group within our community. My primary focus has become looking at the social and environmental determinants of health and their relationship with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, *Trans, Brotherboy, Sistergirl and Intersex (LGBTI) community.
It was not until I began working in suicide prevention that I realised I had fallen into a habit of accepting that I would have to just navigate through the non-Indigenous system and the Indigenous system of health care. But that is okay, as a service user at the age of 41 I can do that now. I can walk into a health service whether it is non-Indigenous or Indigenous, gay or straight and I am prepared for the various aggression, low resistance or high, passive or otherwise, and the casual racism and causal homophobia.
But, with the work that I do things need to change.
As an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male I advocate for the same changes, a more inclusive system that accommodates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males. Not one that considers us some sort of exception by continually telling us we are in need of fixing, in need of sobering, in need of anger management, in need of change. But a system that accommodates us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males and provides access to the supports that responds to our needs. The gap in life expectancy is not purely based on the behaviours of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males; if it was, then the whole Close the Gap movement would have an entirely different take. We are more than the sum of one or one size.
As a gay Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male I’ll share with you what makes me believe that things need to change so as to be more accommodating to our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, *Trans, Brotherboy, Sistergirl and Intersex family and community members.
A study of ‘American Indian and Alaskan Native adolescent men in Minnesota found that 47.3% of gay youth had considered suicide,’ and that ‘25% of Native American men who have sex with men (MSM) had attempted suicide before age 25’. Another study ‘measured transgender people’s experiences of discrimination’, and found that ‘56% of American Indian and Alaskan Native transgender respondents reported having attempted suicide’.
So what does this mean for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, *Trans, Brotherboy, Sistergirl and Intersex members of your family and community? It means that we too are close to the 50% percentile of either considering suicide or attempting to kill ourselves. Currently the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health system does not say that it is okay to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, *Trans, Brotherboy, Sistergirl and Intersex. It especially does not say that to our young people. The highest rate of suicide for our communities is among our youth and we need to be doing everything we can to ensure they see a world that they want to continue to live in comfortably, welcomed.
It is time our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, *Trans, Brotherboy, Sistergirl and Intersex family and community members had direct representation and not thought of as special interest groups. We are not a special interest group, we are not something to be meted out as the exception or on occasion or considered in light of calendar events, or to be tagged on to some plenary, event hitherto. In a diverse society we are to be represented at all times, at every event, at every occasion, in every report, to every layer of society and Government. We are to input into everything about ourselves, not be considered from the outside by others. We must come together, not occasionally be called upon and therefore treated as token.
A number of conversations have begun asking for this representation, because we also expect access to our basic human right to good health.
But more can be done now.
Because quite tragically, while you have been reading this there is the onerous probability somebody attempted to end their life by suicide. The probability that this person is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTI Australian is at about 30-46%. Thus far little has been said and done about it.
As it goes once again, we will change this.
In addition on another note you can assist us in our bid to further highlight what I have begun referring to here today by donating or sharing our crowd funding drive and thus assist us to address the suicides of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, *Trans, Brotherboy, Sistergirl and Intersex family and community members.
Details of our crowd funding can be found here. We have only seven days to raise just over $15,000 and are yet to attract a corporate donor. Please consider a donation today.
*Throughout different cultural contexts transgender identities have specific terms. For example in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities some Sistergirls and Brotherboys are also trans people.