New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has found 73 per cent of Indigenous LGBTQIA+ participants have experienced discrimination, in a first-of-its-kind study that addresses the impacts of racism, social exclusion and queer-phobia on Indigenous LGBTQIA+ people in Western Australia.

The study, Breaking the Silence, was led by Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Braden Hill, a Nyungar Wardandi man and head of Kurongkurl Katitjin, ECU’s Centre for Indigenous Australian Education and Research.

The research was also supported by Indigenous LGBTQIA+ researchers from Kurongkurl Katitjin and funded by government health promotion organisation Healthway.

Professor Braden Hill. Photo supplied.

The study also found over 40 per cent of participants decided not to disclose their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage on dating apps for fear of racism.

Almost 13 per cent had experienced homelessness or housing insecurity, one third felt ‘invisible’ within their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and about 45 per cent felt a sense of belonging to the wider LGBTQIA+ community.

Over 60 per cent of participants had listed GPs and psychologists as a source of significant support.

Breaking the Silence centres on the findings from a survey of 63 Indigenous LGBTQIA+ community members, 206 health care professionals and 49 focus group sessions.

“For many of the participants there was a great sense of pride in being Indigenous and LGBTIQ+, however, the experience of discrimination, particularly racism, was a major concern,” said Professor Hill.

Participants noted discrimination in the forms of being ignored, teased, maliciously outed, followed in public or being “victims of physical violence or other crimes”.

“While people experienced both forms of discrimination, racism was most frequently observed as more problematic because sexuality or gender identity could be hidden, whereas one’s skin colour cannot.”

Professor Hill also noted the experiences of Indigenous LGBTQIA+ people in their own communities.

“Participants said they had to endure microaggressions from non-Indigenous queer people, particularly stereotyping and casual racism such as being told they don’t look Aboriginal or feeling like a token inclusion,” he said.

“Some people chose to hide who they are and were concerned about not being accepted by Elders and community leaders in their communities.”

Professor Hill also said the “importance of family, friends, GPs, counsellors and psychologists was really clearly articulated” in the research. 

Breaking the Silence produced two reports which provide insight into service delivery and the lived experiences of Indigenous LGBTQIA+ people in the health, education and community service sectors.

“This research is really important because it is one of the first of its kind looking at what it is to be Indigenous and LGBTIQ+ … it helps us inform policy and practice for a range of organisations who are working to support Indigenous LGBTIQ+ people,” said Professor Hill.

“The more evidence of what works in this space the better.”

Key recommendations in the report include incorporating Indigenous/LGBTQIA+ leadership on all related matters, having inclusive health and support services that welcome both Indigenous/LGBTQIA+ people as staff and clients, and ongoing professional development and training for organisational staff at all levels.

Recommendations also included the adoption of anti-racism strategies in relevant organisations and greater representation of Indigenous/LGBTQIA+ peoples in social media campaigns, parenting resources, media representation and leadership positions.

By Rachael Knowles