North Stradbroke Island, located one-hour south east of Brisbane, was the picturesque backdrop for the Gar’ban’djee’lum Network’s Healthy Lifestyles Retreat last month and facilitated a program that focused on the sexual and mental health and wellbeing of indigenous members of the LGBTI community.

Gar’ban’djee’lum is an independent social network for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander LGBT people, their families and friends in Queensland. A wide range of community members and ages attended the retreat, spanning from youth to mature-aged men and sistergirls (a term given to transgendered male-to-female Indigenous Australians).

The aim of the retreat was to provide an environment where awareness and understanding among participants could be discussed openly to help in making informed, positive decisions about sexuality, sexual identity and general wellbeing. It also aimed to increase knowledge of services available to the community.

There were some specific sexual health issues currently facing the gay indigenous community that organisers believed needed to be addressed.

“The issues… are education, knowledge and access to sexual health in particularly STI’s, HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis and taking responsibility for our health and well being,” 2Spirits representative on the Gar’ban’djee’lum network, Phillip Sariago, told the Star Observer.

The network works very closely with and was originally established by 2Spirits, an indigenous community health project that operates in conjunction with the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities.

Sariago explained that both the network and 2Spirits face problems in disseminating their health messages across to their communities around the state.

“The difficulties the 2Spirits Program face are language barriers, levels of education in rural and remote communities, cultural beliefs and practices and the ‘Shame Factor’. As a small team who delivers a service to the entire Queensland state, our budget restraints [do] have limitations in how much we can do but ensures us to be effective in our delivery.”

Despite what many still see as very slight progression in the area of indigenous health and wellbeing, Sariago still believes there are very pressing issues concerning the LGBTI indigenous community that the network and 2Spirits continue to tackle.

“The main issue is acceptance from the wider indigenous and non indigenous communities. Other issues are access, inclusiveness, privacy and cultural and sensitivity within some service providers.

“Some medical professions need to be more equipped in providing a service for sistergirls health.”

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