Indigenous Suicide, Sexuality and Gender Diverse Populations

Author: Dameyon Bonson

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Dameyon Bonson, a Mangarayi and Torres Strait Islander man, based in the Kimberley. He has a keen interest in social enterprise and value based market economics. His expertise includes Indigenous suicide prevention and strategising Male health engagement. He is the founder of Black Rainbow Living Well™ and YFRONTS™.

Earlier this week saw the release of the first ever Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders owned and led Sexuality and Gender Diverse Populations (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer and Intersex – LGBTQI) Roundtable Report. This report is via the federally funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP). A small group of people identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Intersex (LGBTQI) participated in the third national roundtable also co-hosted by the National Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation in Canberra on 16th March 2015.

You can download the report here.

Whilst there is much to celebrate with this achievement. There is still sadness in my heart that the lives of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI community, who are undeniably the highest risk of suicide, self-harm, alcohol and other drug self medication, has apparently not attracted the attention of the wider mental health and suicide prevention sector.
What we know from the diligence of our Native American brothers and sisters is that over half of Native trans* people have attempted suicide. They have found prevalence of suicide attempts of trans* people is highest among American Indian or Alaska Native (56%). That Native American LGBQTI people experience even more prejudice and discrimination and have higher rates of suicide deaths, attempts, and ideation than heterosexual Native American and LGBQTI people of any other racial/ethnic backgrounds in the US.
 
It is staggering the very visual and obvious scarring that comes with cutting; a non-suicidal self injury mainly undertaken as another self medication and relief.
 
It is staggering the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people whom turn to alcohol and other drugs to self medicate against homophobia and heterosexism.

I will intend to raise these issues at the UNPFII in New York, where I hope to lobby successfully for an international consortium to look at the SDOH affecting Indigenous LGBQTI people at an international level. The outcome of this meeting will be presented at the World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference in New Zealand later this year.

Nationally and globally there has been limited investment in the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous LGBQTI people, outside of HIV. Which is how we are constantly framed and carries with it significant stigma – even in 2016.
 
There are currently 7 publications on the health and wellbeing of LGBQTI Australians, one or two have a discussion point of the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people. But that’s where it starts and ends.

The Sexuality and Gender Diverse Populations (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer and Intersex – LGBTQI) Roundtable Report references a report I undertook, self funded. This will be released in the coming months via in kind contributions from the construction sector.
 
I am extremely grateful, as are many from our community, for the opportunity the ATSTSPEP project has presented us as group.

Ongoing discussions will create greater understanding of the experiences of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI community.
 
For example, the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people need to be viewed through the interconnected lens of our sexual, gender and Indigenous identities. Through an intersectional lens that posits the social determinants of our health; taking into consideration the devastating effects of whiteness, racism, heterosexism and homophobia.
However, there is a significant underestimation of the urgent and unmet need the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI is faced with.

Those of us alive today, we are the lucky ones. We made it through. A lot of our mob are dead and there is way too many more out there struggling.
 
A 40-year-old Aboriginal Trans* Man with a physical disability and suffering from depression, up until 6 weeks ago was homeless. He was sleeping in his car at the beach and in car parks of the mountains in and around Melbourne. With the help of the networks of Black Rainbow, we were able to help him raise, via crowdfunding, the $3000 needed to secure him a bond. Through our networks we were able to get him on the radar of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS), who now provide him with the medical and social support he needs. Through these same networks we were also able to get him some case management, and this came via NSW. He lives in Victoria.
 
Where does a 40-year-old Aboriginal Trans* Man with a physical disability and suffering from depression go for help? There is no one door. Behind one there can be racism, behind another trans*phobia, behind another stigma associated with mental health. It goes on, and on.
 
A staggering 84% of respondents to the survey that informs my report, when asked if they had been affected by suicide, said ‘Yes’.
 
An encouraging 88% respondents answered ‘Yes’ when asked if wanting to see an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Sistergirls and Brotherboy Suicide Prevention, wellbeing and healing strategy.
 
Both Canada and New Zealand have strategies for their Indigenous LGBQTI people. We could have one too. It is not that the work isn’t being done or that there isn’t people to do it. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI roundtable in Canberra is testament to this. So too is the work of Maddee Clark, Steven Lindsay Ross, Andrew Farrell, Casey Conway and Tanya Quakawoot.

It is not that partnerships with research institutions haven’t been initiated, they have. I personally nurtured a relationship for 18 months and at the last minute was told, ‘No’, because the research institutions were not sure if it would be funded in the second half of 2016.
 
Senator Nova Peris, penned a letter of supporting our community and Black Rainbow to a large mainstream NGO, whom came back with ‘we have no money’.
 
A national LGBQTI group also knocked back a partnership when approached to co-submit for the Indigenous Advancement Strategy – their response was also a ‘no’.

Special mention to Indigenous Allied Health Australia and to the Healing Foundation for their ongoing support in this area, and no doubt there are many others that can also be mentioned. Solidarity is a great thing; it empowers us to continue to be active in our advocacy. Because, the urgency of the suicidality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people can not be underestimated.
 
From the Sexuality and Gender Diverse Populations Roundtable (18 March 2015),
– “The urgent need for research led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sexuality and gender diverse populations was stated in the responses of the participants in the Sexuality and Gender Diverse Populations Roundtable” (pg 12).
– “We need to have direct representation at the decision-making tables, we need to be co-leading or leading and not just from the distance doing some advising” (Sexuality and Gender Diverse Roundtable Participant).
This was being reinforced and identified for a number of purposes:
 
1.         To ensure that the voices of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sexuality and gender diverse community are valued and present;

2.         To ensure ownership of the issues, the analysis and conclusions with respect to sexuality and gender diverse people;

3.         To ensure that new insights involving sexuality and gender diverse populations are recognised;

4.         To connect the voices of the sexuality and gender diverse community directly to evolving policy wherever possible and appropriate; and

5.         To guide further development of ideas found in current reports and literature to supplement the sexuality and gender diverse populations’ concerns that emerged in the Roundtable.
 
From within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference organising committee folks are advocating, with the support of others, for the need to equitable distribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI voices. What is so great about this conference as well, is the inclusion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI community across all stream and themes rather that delegated to a ‘high risk’ category of it s own. The rational behind this is because we too, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people, form part of the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

I write this with respect in my heart and love in my soul. But lip service can no longer be paid to the idea that ‘suicide is everybody’s business’ when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTI people are too often still being excluded.

Sexuality and Gender Diverse Populations (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer and Intersex – LGBTQI) Roundtable Report.

If you or anyone you know needs help, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, or speak to your local Aboriginal Medical Service.

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