For Indigenous people around the country, Invasion Day (January 26) is a day of mourning. Zachary Penrith-Puchalski explains what the day means to him as a gay Aboriginal man.
A few days ago I was speaking with my sister about Invasion Day.
Not because of mourning or defiance, but out of fear that somebody may attack us or accost us in public spaces as they have done in the past.
We are Aboriginal.
I was on a train one Invasion Day when three drunken white guys decided to question me about whether I called it Australia Day or Invasion Day.
I was 21 and just trying to get to a friend’s house for a BBQ.
If I rejected their questions it felt like it might lead to danger, so I was compliant for the 25-minute train journey.
In that time they realised that I was both gay and Aboriginal. I was praised because I was “one of those good Abos” and one of those gays who “doesn’t need to make it a big show”.
Another year on Invasion Day I was told that “Aboriginal people normally get more from Centrelink than white people”.
I was asked to describe why this happens, explain how much I received from my study payment, and when they realised it was the same amount as them, answer a handful more questions.
However, I had no answers because – surprise – Indigenous people do not work as a hive-mind. I now know that these Centrelink comments are common myths.
Many of the people that have accosted me like this are those who actively fight for LGBTQIA rights and are considered LGBTQIA.
Racism has a sharper fang within ‘progressive’ sides because we are often told that they are a safe space and that we “belong”.
I am certain I would do the same thing again today; behave compliantly, despite being older and supposedly wiser now. Compliance means safety for many Indigenous LGBTQIA people.
I still comply today because I continually see LGBTQIA activists make race-based comments and jokes about Indigenous people.
And if they weren’t the one making the joke, they laughed at the joke, liked it on social media, or heard the joke and said nothing at all.
I see nobody defending Indigenous people in the LGBTQIA atmosphere. I see people too afraid to lose their friendships for doing the right thing and saying something. This is not enough.
You are responsible for the company you keep. If you choose to allow racist remarks be made by your mates without standing up, you are complicit.
I have seen white gays raze others for their homophobia, posting screenshots of their take-downs, but then radio silence when it comes to anything to do with racism within our own community.
Left activism is a strange place to be, especially when you see white gays fight so admirably about other issues. Or photoshopping something clever to post on social media. Or delivering a searing hot-take on Facebook, and fact checking with several references to bury somebody who said something negative about the gay community.
Watching this ocean of knowledge and sassiness completely dry up when it comes to intersectional issues is personally hurtful. It should hurt you too – Indigenous LGBTQIA people are a part of this community and we shouldn’t be an afterthought.
When I head out to gay venues in January, and people notice that I am black, I’m consistently asked about Australia Day versus Invasion Day.
People tell me I am pretty for an Aboriginal, and explain that they “don’t really care, it’s just another public holiday anyway”.
They want my permission to not care about the day, as though I speak on behalf of all Indigenous people. I do not.
Most people within our community generally consider themselves progressive, but on January 26 they “just want to have a good time”.
I am not the only black person who has these conversations; this is a topic echoed through every Indigenous person I know.
I care what you decide to do on your Invasion Day or Australia Day. It’s important to me because it displays how much Indigenous LGBTQIA people, like myself, are respected within our own community.
It’s hurtful to watch people celebrate Invasion Day by attending bars and clubs that are holding special events, because you’re actively showing the venue that this is acceptable and that their racism generates money.
We as a community should not accept this.
The responsibility of this day should be shouldered by all of us, as a community, as we Indigenous people are part of this community too, and our rights matter as much as yours.
Indigenous rights should absolutely be getting in the way of you having your good time, and you should be thinking about how much this day aches for us.
We are there for you because we are LGBTQIA but you should be here for us, as we are LGBTQIA too.
We cannot talk about inclusion and then ignore entire segments of our community as though they don’t exist.
We indigenous LGBTQIA people are still here, and always will be.