Openly gay and Aboriginal MLA Chansey Paech is championing equality across the NT. Matthew Wade spoke with him about inspiring the next generation of politicians and fighting for LGBTI rights.

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For young and queer Indigenous people in Australia looking at a future in politics, Chansey Paech wants to provide hope.

As the country’s first openly gay Aboriginal member of parliament, he sees his visibility and pride as critical in inspiring tomorrow’s generation of Indigenous leaders.

“I think [my visibility] is crucial for two reasons,” he says.

“To encourage people from the LGBTI community not to be intimidated or threatened to put their hands up because of their sexuality – they should own it and smash it.

“And to tell homophobic people that my sexual orientation has no impact on my ability to speak up for LGBTI people living across the country.”

Championing equality from his Northern Territory electorate of Namatjira, Paech says many local community members have approached him since being in office for help or advice.

In particular, people questioning their sexuality in a less overtly LGBTI-supportive environment like the NT.

Paech wants to be a strong advocate for same-sex adoption law reform, marriage equality, and enabling women to be able to take an abortion pill.

“I’ve had people in the NT who want to access trans services meet with me to see what options are available to them,” he says.

“I’ve also met with same-sex couples who want the opportunity and right to adopt children, and being an advocate for them has been such a rewarding experience, we still have a lot more work to do in that space.

“Being very openly gay and proud of who I am, I want to see friends of mine in the NT get married, see them be able to adopt children, and have the same rights as everyone else – I’ve certainly put pressure on my colleagues in the Northern Territory.”

Paech says anyone walking past his office can see the pride in his intersecting identities: his window is covered in gay and Aboriginal posters.

In the race leading up to his election, there were some who tried to speak out against people voting for him, but they were swiftly overrun by the majority of community members and supporters. When people have provided a roadblock on his path Paech says he uses that energy as fuel to keep going.

And now, in his NT office, Paech wants to ensure everyone knows that he’s unashamedly Aboriginal and gay – especially for queer youth.

“Being in these roles you have a unique opportunity to encourage young Aboriginal people to take on roles in Australian parliament,” he says.

“We need to grow our Aboriginal and Indigenous people right across public service roles.

“I hope that’s one thing I can help do.”

Paech adds that when a gay black man is asked what his priorities are, there are generally quite a few, though looking after the people in his electorate comes first.

“Thankfully since coming into my role I haven’t faced any form of discrimination so far, I’ve been welcomed with open arms,” he says.

“I’ve also had a lot of people reach out to say thank you for stepping up.

“It’s a great time to get involved for young people around the country – the more young people we get active and to lobby for reform in the Indigenous and LGBTI spaces, the greater position we’ll be in.”

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