In preparation for this week hosting IndigenousX to talk about Black Rainbow and why I started it and why I have persevered challenged me to look inward for first time in a very long time. I will share some horrific personal experiences, not all of them, in an attempt to provide perhaps some context for what drives me and why I believe what Black Rainbow is trying to do is so vitally important.
It was probably around the age of 11 (1985) that I became acutely aware that I was not like other boys my age. And while it took several years for me to work out what that meant, it was only at 21 that I said to myself, “Yup, you are gay and you’re ok with that”. Growing up gay in the 80’s was hard. But putting aside the relentless negativity and homophobia that came with of the Aids crisis at that time, what made the realisation that I was gay even more difficult and perhaps even more confusing was the memory that I was digitally raped and forced to fellate my babysitter when was five. To be gay, and to have your first sexual experience at that age, and for it to be with a man, it fucks with your mind. And as such, I did not recall this event until my early teens. I understand PTSD to work this way; as a kind of protective factor against traumatic memory and injury. Yet despite this significant life event I never sought help until I was in my thirties. The reason, there just didn’t seem anywhere I could go. Nowhere seemed outwardly welcoming or safe, not to an Aboriginal gay guy, and to be honest, I’m not sure many places do today. For a considerable amount of time, particularly during my 20’s I drank and used drugs to soothe the trauma inflicted upon my body, the confusion raging in my mind and the conflict in my heart. I can reflect back and can say that now, but at the time “I was just having fun”. I remember feeling completely broken and thinking who is ever going to love me. Who is ever going to love damaged goods. As a teen the constant barrage of homophobia, and that I needed to look like Princess Leia in her slave costume if I was to ever find my Han Solo, didn’t help. I remember asking myself what had I done to be so hated by a world that I was too live in. I remember feeling very alone, yet unable to form relationship; despite the desperate desire to be liked and loved. Throughout my teens during nights of sobbing through the snot and the tears, it was my mother’s love that has kept me alive. It also kept me alive through my intoxicated 90’s. Love is important to a child. At 43 it’s still important, not just from a parent/s or from family and friends but from the world around us. Love conveys that message you are valued, you are cherished, you are liked, you are welcomed. Love saved my life. It made things better. It made me better. And that’s the message I want to Black Rainbow to present to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI community. That you are loved, you are cherished, you are liked, you matter, you are welcomed.
Black Rainbow kicks off its fourth year this December, but I’ve been raising the issue of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI suicide since about 2010/2011. It was, however, after hitting brick wall after brick wall that I decided to do something about it. In hindsight, I am glad that a heavily tax payer funded mental health organisation told that they had no money. That an LGBT organisation with a national footprint rejected my offer of partnership to apply for Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) funding. But, who, in return offered the attractive but pointless, low hanging fruit of being part of their Indigenous advisory group for their application. I declined. December 14 is the beginning of year four and I am truly excited. I do admit over the course of my advocacy on this issue I have acted belligerently and at times lacking in diplomacy. But when you ask for help and that request for help keeps gets ignored, well, tic toc. I am also not a wilting flower or wounded pigeon either and I also don’t dabble in trauma porn to feed anyone’s saviour complex. I am also 6’6” with a shaved head, beard and covered in tattoos. I also know my stuff. I have a lived experience of trauma and mental illness. Earlier this year I stared outside the floor to ceiling windows of a heel in Melbourne, my mind compelling to jump. However, it was three years ago that I stopped expecting, and I stopped waiting for somebody else to do something about it. I became that somebody. I am unapologetic in my commitment, and without a doubt I will still behave belligerently and at times my diplomacy skills will still be lacking but what part of preventing suicide is a negotiation of the soothing of egos? Personally, I’d rather we focused on the issue rather than being mates.
Black Rainbow started on social media because it was free accessible and that an isolated Indigenous LGBQTI person could get online and see themselves reflected positively; that they too are loved. Maintaining our social media presence, Black Rainbow has now grown to be a national touch point not only on suicide prevention but across the health and wellbeing sector as well. State Children’s commissioners are seeking our participation and engagement. We’ve also advised on the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Intersex Rights (SOGII) report here in Australia and more recently have informed the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) LGBQTI Strategy. Our profiling of the issues in suicide prevention saw significant LGBQTI inclusion and active participation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) and I’ve personally received a Human Rights Award for the advocacy work I have undertaken. Black Rainbow are currently in discussions with the Department of Health to provide leadership on a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI Social and Emotional Wellbeing Plan. We are supported, pro bono, by Ernst and Young to achieve this. This year, for the first time ever, there has been the inclusion of us LGBQTI mob in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Emotional and Mental Health Plan and its recommendations. Myself nor Black Rainbow had a direct hand in this, however, I like to think the collaborative visibility of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people did so.
Black Rainbow includes myself and an advisory group of six. All of us identifying under the ‘rainbow’; and we are all Indigenous Australians. This week we launch our community micro-grants, funded through the sale of two styles of t-shirts. T-shirts we have been able to purchase with donations raised via twitter campaign; #YesWithLove. The t-shirts display the phrase “Deadly and Proud” and “You Matter” and the micro-grants will include $200 cash plus a couple of t-shirts and other Black Rainbow merchandise. Black Rainbow also offers pre-paid phone and data credit to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people who are homeless, or leaving domestic violence relationship or exiting the criminal justice system. This is all funded also through donations. We are only able to provide these grants and phone vouchers through the generosity and love of everyday Australians and all donations go directly back out through our community initiatives. Administration of Black Rainbow I fund through other contracted work I undertake; providing advice and the facilitation of Indigenous LGBQTI inclusive workforce development; I am self-employed. Black Rainbow doesn’t receive government funding — and this is not a call out for any — but what I do hope is that the work we are doing and what we are achieving will get somebody’s attention. Black Rainbow started while I was working and living in Kimberley; where the highest rates of Indigenous suicide in the country exists. It is as a grassroots initiative born out of unrecognised and unmet need and at Black Rainbow, we want the runs on the board to speak for themselves. The report that I authored, the first report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people and suicide prevention in Australia, was not funded through tradition methods, it was crowdfunded. Again, partnerships and funding opportunities were not forthcoming and those tasked (and funded) with responding to our needs had done nothing. It was the generosity and love of everyday Australians that helped get this report completed. My mum has always said, ‘if you want something done, sometimes you have to get of your arse and do it.’ So, despite billions of dollars is spent in mental health, suicide prevention and Indigenous health and none of it directed specifically toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people, here at Black Rainbow we are proud of what we have achieved and what we are doing by simply getting of our arse and doing it. But this is not just about us, it is about celebrating and recognising all the work and achievements of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people. Because despite billions of dollars is spent in mental health, suicide prevention and Indigenous health and none of it directed specifically toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people, other LGBQTI mob are out on the ground are mobilising. Sistergirls and Brotherboys Australia, which you can find on Facebook, is just shining example of this and Miss First Nations is also worth recognising and celebrating.
So even though there is no data on the suicide and the self-harm, of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people, we know mob are killing themselves and self-harming with very little being done to respond.
At Black rainbow our message is simple. You matter. You are loved You are deadly, be proud. When it comes to preventing suicide, it may take more than just a contagion of love, but we think its bloody good starting point and love doesn’t cost a thing.
- An edited version of this article was first published by Guardian Australia on 5 December as part of their ongoing partnership with IndigenousX
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