An advocate for education, Frank Gafa currently holds multiple positions and acts as a vessel for empowering workers through his roles. Gafa works for the National Teachers Education Union (NTEU) as a union organiser for the Deakin University Branch and Chair of the Australian National University Indigenous Alumni Network.

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Spending his whole career in higher education, Gafa moved to Canberra at 18 to pursue further study at ANU. In his second year of university, he gave a speech for the anniversary of the Tjabal Indigenous Higher Education Centre and was introduced to Professor Mick Dobson, who offered him his first proper job in the union sector.

At the time, Professor Dobson was sitting on the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and was also named 2009’s Australian of the Year for his commitment to improving the lives of Indigenous people and galvanising reconciliation between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents.

Fighting for Safe and Accessible Spaces for Everybody in the Queer Community

Gafa identifies as a queer, Aboriginal man and is actively striving to fight for safe and accessible spaces for everybody in the queer community.

Having come out at the age of 17 and moving from coastal NSW to Canberra for university, the queer community in Canberra has shaped “a lot of who I am as a person.”

When it comes to labels and informing his identity, Gafa recalls that he originally came out as bisexual before feeling pressure to “choose either side.” While comfortable and happy with identifying as either bisexual or pansexual, he notes the seriousness of bierasure and discrimination against bisexual people within the queer community.

Proud Union Family

Gafa proudly comes from a union family. His mother and sister are educators, and his uncles are union members in the steel and transport industries. In a case of the apple not falling far from the tree, Gafa’s passion lies in the education sector and he is actively involved in union organising.

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Before his union organiser role, Gafa worked as an HR consultant, stating that he was effectively a “tool of management.” This predicament of working a double life and trying to appease both sides, through HR while also being an elected union representative, created a burgeoning inner conflict which was the catalyst for him to seek a “sea change” to the union side. When asked about any difficulties that arose during this time, Gafa relents, “there were times where things came up in union meetings where I just had to recuse myself out of respect for the people in the room.”

There had been occasions in which there were programs suggested from higher-ups that he knew would be “bad for workers” and a list of people coming up for redundancies left on his table (which he actively fought against and saved some). Gafa would direct workers to speak to their union because “unfortunately the way the power structure is… I will probably be on the other side of the table when it comes to the problem.”

Since moving to organising, Gafa’s daily schedule involves representing workers at Deakin University, putting together strategies, running member meetings, and recruiting colleagues to insist on an active union base to improve staff working conditions.

Arguably, for Gafa, the most important feature of union organising is a continual fight for worker rights, bargaining power, and ensuring workers’ lives are healthy and not demoralised by the system in place.

He expressed enjoying a sense of fulfilment from the job he has now because it is “good to be on the side fighting for things even if we lose, although the goal is always to win” and asserts, “if I’m not empowering workers, I am not doing my job.”

Outside of work, Gafa continues to be a strong activist and currently is campaigning to demand that police cease participating in pride events while in uniform. He affirms a “need for a safe and accessible space for everybody in the community for queer people.”

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