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Importance of harmony in and across LGBTIQ+ and Indigenous Communities

5 September 2021

News and media


Image of a blurry crowd of people

A relatively new field of research offers insight into the intersection of being both Indigenous and of the LGBTIQ+ community in Australia, explored in the Breaking the Silence research report, published by WA’s Edith Cowan University. Carissa Lee Godwin, Editor, APO’s First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, highlights the key findings and recommendations of the report.

Highlights from the report

Breaking the Silence presents findings of a state-wide survey of 63 LGBTIQ+ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Western Australia. These participants provided insight into their experiences of discrimination, homophobia, but also inclusion, pride and acceptance in their respective communities and families. This intersection of Aboriginality and LGBTIQ+ is something that hasn’t been researched extensively.

One of the key goals of this research was to explore the intersectional complexities of being both Indigenous and a member of the LGBTIQ+ community. Although there was a sense of pride expressed throughout the participants’ replies, there were also reflections of feeling disconnected from either LGBTIQ+ or Indigenous people.

Some of the participants described their experience of being discriminated against because they were both Aboriginal and LGBTIQ+. The ways in which participants experienced this discrimination depended on who they were with and the extent to which they disclosed both identities. One participant, for example, experienced discrimination as an Aboriginal person from the wider community and discrimination as a person who identified as LGBTIQ+ from their family.

Other key findings included the following:

Major themes in the survey results related to concealing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and/or LGBTIQ+ identities at different times. Participants reflected on these instances of not being acknowledged either as LGBTIQ+ and/or as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander as being emotionally and mentally taxing.
40 per cent of participants experienced some form of microaggression from within the LGBTIQ+ community, and 63 per cent felt burdened with the need to educate non-Indigenous LGBTIQ+ people about Indigenous topics.
Despite the hardships with juggling these intersectional identities, participants expressed their sense of pride. This was through their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander identity bringing about unique ways of being LGBTIQ+. Some participants also felt they were changing family and wider society’s views about Aboriginal and LGBTIQ+ issues, which in turn will support other young people who were coming to terms with their LGBTIQ+ identity.  

Recommendations for policy and practice

The Breaking the Silence research team developed 37 recommendations across policy, education and training, and organisational service models. These recommendations were created based on the survey results from Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ+ people living in Western Australia, and focus group, interview and survey results from a range of service providers from the health, legal, social support and education sectors in Western Australia. Three of these recommendations are detailed here: 

Organisations need to be culturally safe for people who identify as both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and LGBTIQ+. This could be achieved by further education for staff, community and families about LGBTIQ+ issues, and maintaining inclusive language in health and social services messaging.
Commonwealth, State and Local Governments should collect and share data on the proportion of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ+ people who are represented as victims of crime and violence, and are homeless.
Organisations, mental health professionals, and general practitioners need to adopt inclusive models of practice that recognise the diversity of gender and sexual orientations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Benefits of this research

This report has highlighted the need for Commonwealth and State Funding and Grant bodies to fund and resource further research into this area, as it is still relatively underexplored. This would assist with researchers being able to capture the views of LGBTIQ+ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in states and territories outside of Western Australia, and rural and remote areas. This would gauge the respective health and social needs of Mobs in each area.

Reports such as these provide vital information for health and social support organisations who work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are also a part of the LGBTIQ+ community. It is reiterated throughout the report that it’s important for these organisations to be better equipped to assist Aboriginal people who are also members of the LGBTIQ+ community. This could mean integrating inclusive LGBTIQ+ language into cultural sensitivity training, and also addressing cultural differences when conducting LGBTQIA+ training as well. 

First Nations people are often needing to juggle a myriad of intersectional aspects of their lives, whether that’s gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, age, Mob, or socio-economic status. It’s important that health and social services acknowledge these nuances where applicable rather than implement blanketed approaches to all First Nations people.

About the First Peoples & Public Policy Collection

As part of its mission to improve Indigenous policy in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand, ANZSOG is working to increase knowledge of Indigenous culture and history. As part of this, we founded the Analysis & Policy Observatory’s (APO) First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, launched at our Reimagining Public Administration conference in February 2019, along with the position of First Peoples Editor. 

This is the last article in the series from Carissa Lee Godwin and ANZSOG would like to thank her for her excellent work in leading the Collection and ensuring the representation of First Peoples’ voices, and wish her well for her next endeavour. 

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