Advocating for Indigenous Genius, Indigeneity and Wellbeing

“this one’s for you”. 2016 Dr Yunupingu Award For Human Rights

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Wow. If you would’ve said to me, when I was 13, that I’d be able to stand up here as a gay man and say that without any fear of retribution – I would’ve like to have heard it then. But to be able to do that today just shows how far we’ve come.

I’m so glad that my husband of seven years was able to join me this evening. We live in Broome, and I get to travel quite a bit with the work that I do. So this is kinda awesome for him to be here.

I’d like to thank everybody if I can. The Honorary member for NSW Parliament, Shaoquett Moselmane for hosting such an important event. To the Honorable Dame Marie Bashir for your eloquent keynote address and to the wonderful Natalie Ahmat for her MC skills this evening. Indeed, thank you for the path legends among our people like Dr. Yunupingu; for whom this award is in honour of – and indeed the lovely message this evening from Yalmay Yunupingu, his wife.

Just quickly, because I can get going a bit… So I work in upstream suicide prevention. That space, upstream is before people get unwell. And I been doing that for about seven years now. And the underlying factor to it all these suicides is actually racism.

The key theme that we need to keep powering on with is anti-racism. [Because] It’s in the policies, and it’s in the behaviours of people and organisations. So when I hear about the suicides and I see the devastation that it leads behind, somewhere in that person’s history is an act of racism. Whether it’s because they don’t have appropriate housing, or access to healthcare. We’re not talking about racism because someone won’t sit next to you on a bus. We’re talking about entrenched, systemic racism that is keeping our mob sick, and it’s killing them.

As a gay Aboriginal man, homophobia does that to our mob as well. So does transphobia. I run some workshops that look at sexuality and gender from a cultural standpoint. [For example] The barramundi changes gender – that’s a totem for some of our mob. The black swans, the males, they co-parent. The bearded dragon has a boyfriend. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we are so in-tune with the country, and its animals and plants. Being gay, being transgender, it’s natural. What’s not natural is the homophobia that exists, and the transphobia that exists. Those two things, compounded by racism, make the group that I belong to – which is one of you mob, too- makes our lives even that more like hell.

We know from the work happening over in North America with the Native Americans there. If you’re a Native American person who is LGBTQI, you are the highest risk group of suicide than any other ethnicity of anyone else in that country. That kind of research work has not been done here yet. Personally, I refuse to wait for that work to be done, because when you look at what racism does to our people and then you look at what homophobia does to our people, and you combine those things together and it’s just deadly. Not that good deadly either. We’re talking about brothers and sisters who are killing themselves because people are saying that they don’t belong.

Apologies. I’m being remiss in not acknowledging the traditional owners, so I’d like to do that just before I say one final thing – The Gadigal people of the Eora nation, thank you. I love visiting your country, I really, really do. It’s beautiful.

If I can send one last message to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person out there that is questioning their existence because they’re gay, they’re lesbian, they’re transgender, intersex, questioning, even queer – this one’s for you. You belong, you are loved, and we are one of the mob.

Thank you.

This is an edited version.

Dameyon Bonson, is the 2016 recipient of the Dr.  Yunupingu award for Human Rights. Previous recipients of this awards are Rosalie Kunoth-Monks in 2014 and Tauto Sansbury in 2015.


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