LGBTI Indigenous Australians living in remote areas face a lack of visibility and inclusive services, the Australian Human Rights Commission has heard.

LGBTI advocates met with Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda in Broome to discuss issues facing LGBTI people living in remote communities.

The small gathering of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous LGBTI advocates was organised by Aboriginal men’s health advocate Dameyon Bonson, who last year founded Black Rainbow, a support and advocacy group for LGBTI, sistergirl and brotherboy Indigenous Australians.

Bonson told the Star Observer the small populations in remote communities meant it was vital for service providers — health services, for example — to be inclusive not only of Indigenous people, but of LGBTI people as well.

“We don’t have the luxury of having a dedicated LGBTI service, so the services themselves need to be welcoming,” he said.

While a range of organisations offer training in this area, Bonson said a major challenge was convincing them not only to invest in the expensive prospect of travelling to remote communities to train in LGBTI-inclusive practise, but to do so on an ongoing basis.

“What happens is someone comes up, does a workshop for a day, then no one sees them for 12 months… the conversation lasts for two days and then doesn’t happen for 12 months,” he said.

Also discussed was homophobia in remote communities — Bonson argued that while overt homophobia appears to be rare, a lack of LGBTI visibility meant internalised homophobia was a serious issue for many.

Despite the challenges he felt the discussion represented significant progress, and was happy with the responses he and the other advocates received from both Wilson and Gooda.

“Even to be part of the conversation — it’s the first time we’ve seen an out gay Human Rights Commissioner engaging with the Aboriginal community, and with the gay community as well,” Bonson said.

“I think that’s quite significant for us as a country.”

The meeting was part of Wilson’s community consultation on LGBTI issues throughout Australia, which will continue until the end of the year and result in a State of the Nation report on the challenges facing LGBTI Australians.

This is the first time the Human Rights Commission has included a specific LGBTI portfolio, and Wilson said working on these issues was “an exciting opportunity”.

“Understandably many LGBTI Australians are happy in cities, but people in regional, rural and remote communities face distinct issues that those of us in Melbourne or Sydney do not currently face,” he told the Star Observer.

Wilson was encouraged by the work of Broome’s LGBTI community, but echoed Bonson’s concerns about inclusive services and visibility as key issues facing LGBTI Indigenous Australians living in remote communities.

“From the meetings it is clear that many people are still facing challenges in accessing health services that understand their needs, particularly young LGBTI people,” he said.

“There’s also an ongoing issue of visibility. It’s easy to be LGBTI in Darlinghurst, Prahran or New Farm. It’s much harder in remote communities.”

Wilson acknowledged the challenges in finding the resources to address these problems, but said he came back feeling “optimistic” about the future, and about the work already being done by LGBTI advocates around the country.

The State of the Nation report on LGBTI issues is expected some time after the the Human Rights Commission completes its community consultation towards the end of 2014.


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