In the Arrente language it means "us mob". ANWERNEKENHE II was the second national conference for Indigenous Australian gay men and sista girls. And as GARY LEE writes, it was a time for breaking silences, making resolutions, and naming some deep-running waters. Smilar Sinak dances a Torres Strait welcome dance. Photo: Gary Lee

ANWERNEKENHE II unfolded against the rain forest surrounds of Cedar Creek Lodge, in Mount Tambourine - country west of Brisbane. It was attended by around 70 Indigenous and 10 non-Indigenous delegates from each state and territory, and four international delegates.

The conference was the culmination of months of hard work by a number of people including Tim Leach acting director of AFAO, the AFAO National Indigenous Gay and Transgender Project Steering Committee (Steering Committee) and staff of the Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC). Funding for the conference came primarily from the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services and AFAO with additional assistance from the National Association Of People Living With HIV/AIDS (NAPWA), the AIDS Trust Of Australia, state and territory AIDS Councils, Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS) and Aboriginal Health Departments.

The AFAO Steering Committee and QuAC combined resources to bring to fruition what turned out to be a memorable gathering. A conference co-ordinator, Brendan Leishman, was appointed the mammoth task of bringing it all off, which he did brilliantly - an unenviable task carried out at all times with good humour and much patience.

Anwernekenhe II had a three-day agenda, unlike Anwernekenhe I which ran for five days. The shorter time span did not detract from the overall success of the conference itself although a common agreement among delegates was that 'next time' it should be for at least a week in duration. This was based on the widely-expressed view that people felt they were only beginning to touch the tip of the iceberg in terms of the issues being aired. And that's where the real strength and power of the conference lay - in the very fact that important issues were able to be raised in an empowering, non-threatening forum; for many, it was for the very first time they had been in such an environment. What were these important issues and why was it empowering to have them raised in this way at this time? To answer these questions adequately, one has to revisit some of the terrain of Anwernekenhe I, held in 1994.

At this landmark gathering, Indigenous gay men and transgender delegates had a national forum through which, for the very first time, they had an opportunity to voice their concerns and experiences. Consequently there was a lot of unresolved anger and many unanswered questions which had been waiting to 'come out', which was both the right and the appropriate thing to happen. This first historical gathering led to the Anwernekenhe Report, and was also the catalyst for the genesis of a national recognition and awareness of Indigenous gay men and transgenders as an identifiable group. This also resulted in the formation of the AFAO National Indigenous Gay and Transgender Project and its Steering Committee, into which each state and territory could now have direct input through their individual representative.

By the time of Anwernekenhe II, delegates now had their own powerful 'tool', the Consultation Report and Sexual Health Strategy, launched at the conference, which clearly articulated their priority issues while at the same time providing a basis and guidelines for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous service providers to work with for the betterment of Indigenous gay men and transgender people's issues around the country. Delegates also had the Priority List of Recommendations within the Report (pp.59-61), a summary of the main listing of 77 overall Recommendations (pp.63- 69), for discussion and ratification. Plenary sessions and workshops enabled delegates to discuss the Priority Recommendations and to raise other points which otherwise may of have been left out. Through this process all delegates were able to endorse the Report and the Recommendations found therein unanimously.

FOLLOWING are the additional recommendations from the floor and those which emerged out of the workshops.

Child Sexual Assault

We renounce sexual abuse and incest in any form. We recommend that Indigenous gay and transgender peoples be given resources and support to research, develop, implement and evaluate social, emotional and spiritual healing programs (including training and skills development) which are specific and appropriate to their needs.
Support should be provided to people who say they have been abused. It is not for service providers to determine whether they have been abused or not or to judge.
Cultural respect requires that we proceed cautiously with this issue but silence is not the right answer.
We must acknowledge that sexual abuse occurs in all cultures and that includes Indigenous communities.
Perpetrators of sexual abuse should not be protected for cultural or any other reasons.

Transgender Statement

Please note that our identity is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sista or Sista Girls and [these terms] should not be seen as technical terms by our Aboriginal and TSI [Torres Strait Islander] Sisters and Brothers.
That (Indigenous) transgenders be addressed as transgender peron/s for bureaucratic purposes only.
That training of transgender/sista girl persons help educate sexual health workers on issues relating to transgender persons, for example, HIV/STD and identity throughout the communities or country.
That sexual health workers be educated on all aspects on transgender persons in a non-discriminatory manner. Aspects to include all health, sexual identity, hormonal therapy and genital re- construction/surgery.
AIDS Councils, transgender community organisations and AMSs should collaborate on the production of a resource booklet aimed specifically at Indigenous transgenders and their issues and include information on potential drug interactions between hormonal therapy and anti-H IV treatments and prophylaxis.
That a support network for remote area sista girls be established through AIDS Council and AMS collaboration.

HIV Positive

That ANET [AFAO/NAPWA Education Team] be shown how to include Indigenous gay, transgender PLWHA issues in its Work Plan.
That OATSIHS [Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Services] recognise many Indigenous PLWHAs live in poverty and encourage health workers to support them.
That OATSIHS in particular develop strategies for covering the costs of HIV medicines for Indig- enous PLWHAs in all parts of Australia And provide education about the pharmaceutical safety network.
That AFAD and NAPWA work with the Indigenous Steering Committee to create a national network of Indigenous PLWHA. This has three main purposes - to help identify advocacy issues, to create local PLWHA support groups, to provide local retreats for PLWHA support groups, families and carers.
That NACCHO [National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation] and its member organisations to be proactive a about Indigenous PLWHA issues and needs and that Indigenous PLWHA be involved in the process and in the developing a Memorandum Of Understanding between NACCHO and AFAG.
That the Commonwealth fund a NAPWA conference pre-conference meeting for indigenous PLWHA and carers.

Gay Men

AMSs, AIDS Councils and Indigenous health services to jointly seek ongoing funding for an Indigenous position to oversee implementation of the recommendations of the AFAD National Indigenous Gay and Transgender Sexual Health Strategy 1998-2000.
That AFAD produce an Indigenous poster/print/calendar campaign to promote self esteem and HIV awareness.
That the AFAD Gay/Positive Educators' conference have an Indigenous stream.
That AIDS Councils resource support groups for Indigenous gay men and sista girls. NACCHO and AFAD jointly seek funding from OATSIHS for research into Indigenous gay and transgender suicide.
That AIDS Councils resource support groups for Indigenous gay men and sista girls. Treatment, Care and Support.
The National Centre of HIV/ AIDS Epidemiology and Clinical Research and the National Centre for HIV/Social Research should monitor HIV disease progression in Indigenous Australians and report annually on comparisons wit non-Indigenous Australians and follow strict adherence to the National Aboriginal Research and Ethics Guidelines.
That ANET provide regular in formation on HIV treatments tha can be understood by indigenous PLWHA and is circulated across Australia.
That AFAD develop its own Indigenous Australian policy covering HIV and related diseases, sexual health, PLWHAs, sex workers, IDUs, gay men and sista girls and work out how this will be implemented through AFAO's structures, particularly the Executive and membership.
That OATSIHS get off its arse and distribute the HIV/AIDS Care and Support Resource Manual for Indigenous People to all AIDS Councils, AMSs and other Indigenous health service providers, at to Indigenous gay and transgend support groups.

Youth Sexual Identity Formation

Information about state/territory and national forums be distributed so as to ensure representation by Indigenous gay and transgender youth. They need to I involved (in these forums) and to participate in them in a safe and respected way.

Jonathon Stott, Shanie Granigan, Philip Minggun and Frankie Puttaburra. Photo: Gary LeeSpecial mention must be made of the four international delegates who attended Anwernekenhe II. Greg Noda and Edward Cowley, the Maori Men's Officer and the Pacific Islands Community Educator of the New Zealand AIDS Council, came from Auckland. Their presentations were both informative and fascinating, not least of all for the majority of Indigenous Australian delegates many of whom had little idea of the similarities facing our brothers and sisters across the Tasman. We also had a Fa'afafine delegate from Aotearoa (residing in Sydney), and a Brazilian delegate who was given the task of filming the conference proceedings.

For many of the young gay men and transgender delegates this was the first time that many of them had participated in such a gathering of like-minded brothers and sista girls before. Just the very fact of being together as one, in a supportive, non-threatening environment, getting to understand that they were not alone in the world and - that there are people 'out there' who are working with their interests at heart, I feel, was one of the overwhelming responses that came from the delegates.

At the end-of-conference party, held at a local disco in Brisbane, there was a fantastic feeling of having achieved such a great deal in terms of furthering our - that is, Indigenous gay and transgender profile and increasing the national networks whose seeds had been sown at Anwernekenhe I.

To this end, the new members of the AFAO National Indigenous Gay and Transgender Steering Committee were elected. As well as representatives from each state and territory, one for the Torres Straits, and one HIV positive, it was agreed that there would be two transgender/sista girl members one each to represent those from the mainland and the Torres Straits. This brings the Indigenous membership of the Steering Committee to thirteen. The new Steering Committee members are looking forward to the implementation of the Indigenous Gay and Transgender Sexual Health Strategy recommendations and being a part of that very important process in the coming months.

On a personal level as the Project Officer and the primary author of the Report, it was particularly gratifying and humbling to be approached over and over by so many different delegates who felt they wanted to tell me personally just how good they felt about the conference. Two words which kept being used in this scenario were 'strong' and 'empowering', which is what many of the delegates ex- pressed to me as being the most important things which the con ference 'made them feel'. Even if this were the only thing that they got out of the conference then I would be more than satisfied with that. As so many of the delegates said to me: Let's not wait so long [four years] until the next conference.

GARY LEE is the Indigenous Gay and Sista Girl/Transgender Project officer at AFAO.


For more information on HIV/AIDS and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people contact the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations




Designed by Larrakia artist Gary Lee