Mental health: an enormous challenge in the Indigenous community and even more if you are LGBTIQ+
Back in 2017 I started following Dameyon Bonson on Twitter. He was writing passionately from the remoteness of the Kimberley and more recently his home in Darwin about the plight of LGBTIQ+ Indigenous folk in Australia. This included real stories of how they faced significant challenges from both of their intersecting communities, homo/transphobia in the Indigenous community and racism in the LGBTIQ+ community. This also manifests systemically as an inability for LGBTIQ+ Indigenous folk to access critical health care needs. No organisation in Australia was even thinking about this problem, let alone dedicated to delivering a solution.
I wanted to help. So I in early 2018 I reached out on Twitter. I had done a fair bit of community organising in Sydney, worked in grants, and was keen to help where I could to help elevate Dameyon’s new platform, Black Rainbow.
Once we got chatting the entire universe of the challenge was revealed. Mental health is an enormous problem and the LGBTIQ+ Indigenous suicide rate is one of the highest for any group in the country.
It was daunting.
Dameyon began by applying for mini grants while building the network of people keen to help out. Black Rainbow started delivering direct funding for phone credit for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ+ community members to stay connected with family, friends, and with services that they may need access to.
They also provided micro-grants to assist with hosting Indigenous LGBTIQ+ community events. In partnership with IndigenousX, as part of the Amplifying Voices, Increasing Visibility Initiative, they offered $150 for new published content by Indigenous LGBTIQ+. Plus sponsorship of the inaugural Miss First Nations Drag Queen Pageant in 2017, that the film Black Divaz (2018) documents.
The funding for all these programs comes from small community donations from all around Australia.
Dameyon has built a significant network of LGBTIQ+ Indigenous activists, community workers, lawyers, artists, researchers and government officials so we began teasing out and generating strategic support for the most feasible areas of impact. That’s when we reached out to my colleagues at KPMG, seeking formal support so Black Rainbow could attract the funding it needed.
In 2018, to build a consensus around priorities, KPMG hosted a series of roundtable discussions across the country between Indigenous LGBTIQ+ people and everyday folk at the grassroots, as well strategic discussion with big names in music, law, government, health, and research and, across dozens of community organisations. It was an exciting time.
The consensus was to work collaboratively with both LGBTIQ+ and Indigenous organisations to build cultural competence, improve the delivery services to the communities across Australia, and develop inclusive government policy settings. At this stage, we needed to bring some experts into the room to make this a reality and I’m grateful for the support of KPMG partner, Adam Cole, who has extensive experience in supporting Indigenous organisations with formal strategic advice, and his PA, Brittanie Bennett.
The Black Rainbow Leadership Group, assembled by Dameyon, decided not to replicate existing services, rather aiming to extend the reach, through collaboration, that many existing organisations couldn’t achieve on their own. They also built a policy arm, to support law reform, and ensure a multiplicity of intersections could be captured in future data collection, while also delivering continuous improvement to services.
One of the big challenges was to determine the depth and breadth of various identified problems. Black Rainbow’s volunteer advocacy mobilised a team of researchers to successfully apply for, and win, a prestigious $716,000 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to fund researchers to collect data on LGBTIQ+ Indigenous mental health status.
Black Rainbow has delivered incredible impact to date, supporting dozens of events and writers. It’s all about bringing community out, and supporting them to live proud, and connected, which has huge social and mental wellbeing impact. Pride and Love is contagious!
About the author
Jehan is NSW Chair of the PRIDE@KPMG Network, and has a passion for volunteering within the LGBTIQA+ community, including supporting Australian arts groups and for community campaigns.