What Pride means to me as an openly gay Aboriginal person
I would like to acknowledge the Dharug people whose land I write on, particularly the Wattamattagal clan whose knowledge and care extend over Ryde and Hunters Hill area. I also pay my respects to all my fellow First Nations people reading this piece.
Our Songlines would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land we work and live. We acknowledge their ongoing spiritual connection to the land, water, skies and culture. We acknowledge their ongoing fight and resistance, and we pay our respects to all Elders past, present and emerging.
A few months ago, many of us would probably have seen organisations changing their storefronts or changing their profile picture into the rainbow flag on social media or various clothing brands coming out (pun intended) with rainbow clothing in what they deem as ‘supporting’ the LGBTQI+ community during Pride Month, though it is unfortunately in poor taste. You might be thinking, what is Pride Month? Have all these companies turned gay? Am I forced to turn gay now too? The answer is no, you aren’t forced to turn gay. Zuckerburg isn’t holding you to ransom until you come out, well actually I’m not entirely sure of his intentions but I doubt that being gay is high on his agenda.
As any trusty google search would tell you, June marked World Pride Month where queer activism, success and history takes the forefront of recognition. Pride Month is celebrated every June to honour the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan in the U.S. This uprising, which was the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the U.S who had grown tired of the relentless police aggression and homophobia. The Stonewall Uprising sparked a global push for gay liberation movements and showed the courage and strength of queer people around the world. From this, June was the internationally accepted month for LGBTQI+ Pride. June is also a time where the queer community can hold memorials to mourn those they have lost during the HIV/AIDS epidemic or to hate crimes. These memorials show that Pride Month is an incredibly important time to not only recognise how far rights have come for the LGBTQI+ community but also how far there is still left to go.
Queer people have always faced discrimination, stigma and violent homophobia (or threats of it) just for being themselves and Pride Month is a time to recognise how beautiful our rainbow family is and help fight for their safety. Not only is Pride month a time to fight for queer rights, but it is also a time for a celebration of LGBTQI+ survival. Against all odds, queer people are still thriving today and are consistently doing it with poise, grace and covered in glitter.
Being proud in the LGBTQI+ Indigenous community is incredibly important, especially because Pride was started because of queer and trans women of colour and without them fighting for us, we would have nothing. For the Australian queer Indigenous community, we have lived our lives being told that we are not equal to the rest of society and that our existence is a threat. So instead of succumbing to their hatred and opposition, we push back harder, and with more style, to make sure that we are seen, heard and felt. Each pride month that passes us by, little by little, we get stronger.
Pride Month always stirs up a lot of emotions for me. As an openly gay, Indigenous person, being proud of my identity is something I have always struggled with. Growing up as the loud, stereotypical gay kid who didn’t want to play sports but instead make daisy chains with his friends in a world where I knew no one like me was not a pleasant experience. In fact, I couldn’t have stood out like a sore thumb more if I tried. I grew up in the shadows of my older brother who, just so God could throw more salt in the wound, was the perfect embodiment of what I was expected to be as a man. He was athletic, always had washboard abs, was good at every sport he tried (seriously what is up with that?) and could not be more heterosexual if he tried - it was like my mother had somehow made the exact stereotype of what a straight man was and what a gay man was. As you can probably imagine, little old’ gay, musical loving me was the ugly duckling in this family of athletes and sports junkies.
For the most part of my brief time on this earth, I have been boxed into various identities by those around me, in which I was told to sit in and be a good boy and operate in the ways others expected me to operate. I never felt quite comfortable in those boxes though, I never seemed to perfectly fit into them. I have never felt queer enough to fit into queer boxes and according to others, I am not Indigenous enough (whatever that means) to fit into that box either. Soon enough, I started to feel as though I would never be able to exactly what they wanted me to be - and that messed me up.
Regrettably, I spent a lot of my adolescent years trying to be exactly what others wanted me to be. On the outside, I was the gayest thing you could imagine who constantly spoke up about Indigenous issues that affected my community and making sure that my Indigenous brothers and sisters had their voices heard. To the girls I was the hyper-feminine ‘yes queen, slay the house down mumma boots werk’ whilst we talked about RuPaul’s Drag Race because that was the limit of their exposure to queer culture. Whenever an Indigenous issue was on the news, everybody assumed I would know all the answers and somehow have the solution to world peace because I happened to be Indigenous.
Don’t get me wrong, I love drag culture and I think Indigenous issues should be spoken about but the problem is the fact that I felt pressured to be like that. I always felt like I was performing a different version of myself to fit another’s expectations.
Pride Month used to make me feel like I was a fraud. On the surface level, I was full of pride and was unapologetically confident but on the inside, my identity was constantly at war with itself. I never thought that being gay and Indigenous could coexist and that I had to choose one or the other, as it would be unfathomable to people that I could possibly be both these things. To some it was unfathomable, to them it is almost as if I went to the minority shop and said, “give me what you’ve got,” and they gave me homosexuality and Indigeneity, whilst throwing in Irlen Syndrome at no added cost, how kind!
People have tried to tear those boxes apart and strip me of the safety of those brown cardboard walls and lay me bare with nothing to hide who I am. I fought desperately hard to keep those walls up, no matter how confined I felt in them. But it wasn’t until recently I started to tear those walls down myself, piece by piece, and slowly let myself ease into the open terrain of identity. To me, that is the importance of Pride. For someone like me, who many assume is very open and accepting of myself, it shows that I have room to grow, that I am connected to a much larger beautiful community who are growing alongside me. From each Pride month that happens, I feel powerful.
Whilst I have had a complicated journey with Pride over the course of my life thus far, Pride gives me an opportunity to look within myself and grow to love myself unapologetically. It gives me the chance to recognise how blessed I am that I can belong to such beautiful and powerful communities that embrace each other with love and kindness.
When July 1st rolls around and the ‘supportive’ companies become straight again and everything goes back to heteronormativity where queer artists are ripped off and straight men will start wearing nail polish and be told they are ‘brave’, my communities will not stop fighting. My community has never stopped fighting. We will continue to show love when others show hate. We owe it to those who we have lost simply because they wanted to be their true selves, to remember their names and make sure others aren’t lost too. In my beautiful queer Indigenous community, our collective heart beats for love and joy, and our most open members are only as strong as our brothers and sisters who still face persecution and prejudice. Above all, our unwavering Pride exists every day beyond June, and that is something to be proud of. Being proud of one’s true and genuine self – whether you are Indigenous, or one of the pillars of the LGBTQI+ community or even both – is something that should be celebrated every single day.
Ky Stewart – a proud gay and deadly young person.
I acknowledge the Indigenous lands, seas and waters of which I live work and study upon. I acknowledge Elders past, present and emerging.