In an historic move the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) has appointed two First Nations People as its ILGA Oceania co-convenors.

Fia’ailetoa Ken Moala will work alongside Dr Vanessa Lee of the Yupungathi and Meriam people. In the 42-year history of the organisation Dr Lee is the first Indigenous Australian to hold this position. This week Star Observer spoke with Dr Lee about the importance of the appointment and the experience of being Indigenous and LGBTQI identifying in 2020.

What we do is aligned with the United Nations, so when they do a call out on a particular issue, we will put a submission together and take it to the UN,” Dr Lee explained. “It’s a step toward our voices getting heard on a world level. It’s about a strength-based approach, as we are a minority voice.

“Recently, this young person said to me ‘you know what, you’ve opened the door for young people to believe in themselves. So many young people really feel lost and you’ve done something here because you’ve come from a minority group yourself.

“I didn’t even think of it like that, but it was interesting because I do a lot of work in suicide prevention, and we know in the Indigenous community that a lot of the young people that are taking their lives are LGBTQI.”

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 Dr Lee also currently sits as a director of Suicide Prevention Australia a role which sees her engage with national and international policy development and evaluation in order to address Indigenous health and wellness for suicide prevention including LGBTQI and gender diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. 

“We also know that a lot of young people in the general population who are LGBTQI are taking their lives. It’s about having support in place and doing this work collectively. It’s a human rights issue and something where we actually need to stand together and walk forward together.

Australia is a multicultural country and too many times we separate instead of coming together in one voice.

When the Morrison Government put together the Religious Freedom Bill, that is something that effects all of us. We need to stand together, have the strength to stand up, to stand in the face of adversity, to say no this is not ok, we actually need to have human rights here, LGBTQI lives matter, black lives matter.”

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 Intentional self-harm features within the top 10 leading causes of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males and females, while studies have shown that LGBTQI people are six times more likely to have thoughts of suicide than the general population of Australia.

There is so much racism, and the queer community has a lot of racism, but the interesting thing is there is still a lot of anger on the Indigenous side as well. We talk a lot about this in Indigenous communities, the colonial divide and we see this with the Government all the time, where they try and pick a vulnerable population and try and divide it instead of bringing it together.

I look at the Sista Girls and a lot of the young gay men that I’ve known over the years, and they couldn’t hide their sexuality, not even if they tried. And the sad reality is some of these boys didn’t even make it to 35. That’s not just in Indigenous communities, that’s everywhere, it’s not an isolated issue and we don’t talk about this.

“What’s happening to young people taking their lives and not having the confidence to say something?”

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 We finish our interview with Dr Lee, reflecting on the opportunity that could present itself through her appointment with ILGA.

“It’s interesting being a leader among my own people, but coming completely out like this, in the human rights sense, I think is a game changer for communities. They all know me as someone who stands up for Indigenous health and wellbeing and so now, I’m talking about LGBTQI health and well-being in communities as well.

There’s an opportunity in this if we stood together. We could be a power; we could make some serious change.”

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