Australia's Aboriginal LGBTQ community at Sydney WorldPride

Australia | 3rd March 2023

At a temporary Aboriginal gathering space dubbed Marri Madung Butbut — or “Many Brave Hearts” in the language of Sydney’s original inhabitants, the Gadigal people — eight performers emerged through lasers and lights that appear to move and thrust to the electronic beat.

The rousing anthem proclaimed, “You can’t tell us who we are, for we already know.

The yearly LGBTQ celebration is being held for the first time in Australia (and the southern hemisphere) more than 20 years after the first WorldPride took place in Rome, Italy. About 500,000 people are anticipated to come on the city for the three-week festival, according to the organizers, making it the largest event to take place in Sydney since the 2000 Summer Olympics.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge will be closed on Sunday for a Pride march, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese participated in the Mardi Gras parade on Saturday. Nevertheless, unlike earlier iterations, such as WorldPride 2019 in New York, a significant portion of the program places a specific emphasis on Australia’s Indigenous LGBTQ community.

A beauty pageant at Marri Madung Butbut features six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander drag queens competing for the title of Miss First Nation: Supreme Queen. Four of the contestants have previously won Miss First Nation. They were joined by two additional indigenous queens from the Mori and Bunun cultures of New Zealand and Taiwan.

A participant using the stage name Lasey Dunaman told the audience that she feels more secure in her own identity as a result of her performance persona before Tuesday’s finale.

“I was in a terrible situation. It was dark and profound, and that was truly a result of my own family not accepting me, “She stated: offering a moment of vulnerability on a night of joy and bold performances.

On the first night of the three-day competition, judges evaluated the queens based on their runway attire, each of which represented the contestant’s ethnic history.

A figure-hugging black gown with a flame design and a big gold heart was Dunaman’s choice of attire. She introduced it as “Koori Pride Rising” while speaking on stage. It’s for overcoming adversity and entering a world filled with love and optimism.

Dunaman’s clothing, which immediately made the room think of the Aboriginal Flag’s colors of black, red, and yellow, elicited enthusiastic applause from the audience. The Indigenous Nations of southeast Australia are referred to as “Koori”.

The Supreme Queen on Tuesday, Cerulean, a fellow candidate, said her handcrafted dress was “inspired by the ocean currents… and how the shark moves.”

She declared on stage, “My totem is the hammerhead shark. “My totem is represented in the manner that I walk and the way that I go through life.”

‘Minority within a minority’

Aboriginal Australians, who have been present on the continent for at least 65,000 years, are credited by Sydney WorldPride co-creative director Ben Graetz as being not only the world’s oldest surviving civilization but also the “world’s oldest queer community.”

Despite there is little information regarding the historical status or acceptance of homosexual and bisexual individuals in Australia’s Aboriginal cultures, ideas like gender fluidity have been studied among some Indigenous tribes.

For instance, men and women have traditionally played opposing gender roles in the safe environment of the performing arts in the Tiwi Islands, off the coast of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory. Males, for instance, portrayed being pregnant, giving birth, and nursing during dances. A sizable number of sistergirls, a word for Indigenous trans women, live on the islands. (In Australia, native trans guys are referred to as “brotherboys”).

However, not all First Nations tribes have inclusive views on sexual orientation and gender, and as a result, some LGBTQ individuals face stigma in their own communities.

According to Graetz, Indigenous LGBTQ history, which had been passed down orally for generations, was also lost during British colonial rule, when many Indigenous peoples were deprived of their languages and cultures due to English-only educational programs and discriminatory practices.

The LGBTQ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities “face a number of major and intersecting instances of discrimination and marginalization in Australia today,” according to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

According to the commission, this includes encounters with racism, prejudice, and isolation as well as limited access to public services like healthcare.

According to Sydney-based HIV and LGBTQ health advocacy group ACON, despite a decline in infections among the general Australian population over the past ten years, HIV rates among Indigenous Australians have remained stable. The group stated that mainstream health services, or those not explicitly targeted towards Indigenous communities, “are typically inconsistent in implementing culturally-inclusive sexual health programs” in a report from 2019.

The report concluded: “Stigma and prejudice contribute to mistrust in health care, which in turn contributes to poor HIV and other health outcomes among Aboriginal peoples.

As for the issues faced by Indigenous LGBTQ individuals in Australia, according to Graetz, “we also have the extra difficulty of challenges of being a First Nations person in this country.”

He continued, “And I think that’s just about disadvantage. “The effects of colonization are the subject. Being a minority within a minority is what it is.”

Australia needs to do a lot of work, said Miss First Nation contender Trinity Ice.

From ‘rough and ready’ to RuPaul

Graetz has been conducting this study for a while. In 2017, two years before Sydney was chosen to host WorldPride, he put together the first Miss First Nation pageant at a Darwin nightclub.

Australian indigenous queens from all around the country were invited to compete. “Black Divas,” a documentary about the five-day pageant, has subsequently developed a cult following.

In order to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander drag queens greater opportunity, he added, the tournament was formed. Although it was a little shabby, it was still a lot of fun.

“I am a First Nations drag performer and I realized that there wasn’t a lot of awareness or chance for that,” Graetz, who has been using his drag character Miss Ellaneous for over twenty years, said.

Some Miss First Nations contestants have gone on to have successful careers as full-time professional entertainers in the six years since Graetz established the pageant. “RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under” included former participants Jojo Zaho and Pomara Fifth.

According to Graetz, the First Nations drag scene’s rising popularity shows that Aboriginal Australia is just as diverse as the Gay community.

He stated, “The more we can join together as an LGBT community and as a nation, the more we’ll be able to get out there and tell our experiences and be visible.

As 50,000 march across Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge on Sunday dressed in rainbow colors, that community will experience its most noticeable moment to yet. There will be a First Nations contingent in charge.

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