Queerness and Aboriginality have existed on this continent for tens of thousands of years and will for many more.
One reason we celebrate Wear It Purple day is with the purpose of contributing to a world where queer people feel proud of who they are.
Yet despite the existence of queer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on this land for millennia, it has only been recently that we have seen the first nationwide in-depth research about queer Indigenous experiences.
The community report released this month by Black Rainbow reveals the strength found in tight-knit communities but also identified key areas of improvement needed for LGBTQIA+SB Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Union members play a huge role in ensuring our workplaces are culturally safe and that workers’ health is kept a priority. In doing so, we need to understand the complex nature of what cultural safety looks like.
But first of all, what does it mean to be queer and Indigenous?
Queer Aboriginality as a form of resistance
It is crucial to note that the term ‘queer’ and the label ‘LGBTQIA+SB’ incorporate sex, gender and sexuality. Yes, it does become a little confusing and, yes, there is quite a lot hiding behind the plus symbol.
But what is of particularly pertinence to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is the ‘SB’ initials. These stand for ‘Sistergirl’ and ‘Brotherboy’.
LGBTQIA+, disabled and First Nations advocate Hayden Moon describes ‘Sistergirl’ and ‘Brotherboy’ as “very inclusive terms”.
“They are trans identities that accept everyone, including those who don’t separate themselves from the gender they were assigned at birth.”
The two terms are powerful in the way that they encompass both gender identity and cultural identity. It’s why the terms belong solely to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
National Tertiary Education Union member and academic Professor Sandy O’Sullivan explains that, “gender, like many imposed binaries, is a colonial construct” and that binary genders are used as a colonial tool to control Indigenous bodies.
This forced imposition of the gender binary (i.e. man/woman) means it is all the more important we recognise the long history of gender diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on this land.
“Indigenous trans people have always been, are, and will be. Proof is not required,” Professor O’Sullivan writes.
O’Sullivan also highlights how the terms ‘Sistergirl’ and ‘Brotherboy’ serve queer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the face of on-going colonisation.
“[The terms] provide a level of resistance, even as there remains work to be done for these communities to accept and support queerness in the push/pull of the colonial project,” they explain.
When we think about what it means to have culturally safe workplaces, this understanding of queerness and Aboriginality must be kept front of mind if we are to truly make all workers feel accepted and welcome.
Lived experiences during a pandemic
We know in the broader Australian youth queer population, 88 per cent of queer people feel supported by friends when they come out.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQIA+SB folk, the Black Rainbow report shows a similar level of strong community ties.
More than 90 per cent accessed support withing their friends and family network during the pandemic. They were mindful of the stress they were experiencing and knew they should reach out to someone.
The statistic also speaks to how close-knit the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community is, especially at the family level.
However, the report also shows that around half of those surveyed had experienced suicidal thoughts during the COVID pandemic.
It is pertinent to note that the pandemic may have worsened these negative experiences, but the lack of research within these communities means we do not have a point of contrast.
But regardless of historic data, the statistic is incredibly alarming and reflects a lack of substantial investment in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQA+ sistergirl brotherboy suicide prevention.
With this situation in mind – and given we can see workplace discrimination taking a toll across the spectrum of queer Australians – it is all the more important to have support at work when you need it.
Support when you need it
Throughout our history, workers in unions have been showing up to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights at work. And that’s not about to change.
Unionised workplaces are safer workplaces, but we also know there is so much we can do to make them fairer and more welcoming.
One of the reasons why have the First Nations Workers’ Alliance is to provide a space where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers can learn about unions and being a union member is the best thing you can do for your working life.
Bullying. Harassment. Unfair dismissal. Your union membership ensures you have support if or when you need it. We stand together whenever members want help, but the course of action we take is entirely up to you.
You’re never alone when you’re a union member – join the FNWA today.