Gay and homosexually active Aboriginal men in Sydney



It remains a general fact that there is a racially exclusive image of gay reality. Goldby says that although AIDS had put interraciality and racism on the agenda in the United States, the evidence is that it is not really seen as a pressing issue but as 'an old story, an ever-present reality in American politics, that has become expendable in the face of the new narrative of the AIDS epidemic' (Goldby 1990: 10). Another gay community commentator: 'who has time to worry about racism when we're all dying?' (Goldby 1990: 10). There is considerable irony here in the fact that it was the civil rights and the black power movements in the United States in the 1960s that served as inspirational models for early gay activists, yet it is gay men and women of colour today that are relegated to the boundary of gay community. The excuse of an over-full agenda merely disguises the racism inherent in such practices.  

The idea that the AIDS era has seen a consolidation of the gay community into institutional forms as a vital response to the epidemic constitutes a discourse which ultimately centres on the theoretical project of (re)articulating identity and identity politics. As Goldby asks: 'who do we mean, alter all, by "our own"?' (Goldby 1990: 10). Following this, the notion of gay community as an unadulterated good must be questioned.  

Michael and all the other Aboriginal and Tones Strait Islander interviewees and informants spoke about their experience of racism and sense of exclusion in the Sydney gay community. Michael has previously been involved in Mardi Gras (Sydney's major gay community festival and street parade), so his comments imply a feeling that any form of 'token involvement' is unacceptable to him. 

Michael: If the gay scene moved in a positive manner as in the non-racism stuff, black people would have more move within the gay scene, more involvement within the Mardi Gras and not feel inhibited to any degree. 
The fuckin' gay scene thinks it's developing. It's not basically . . . forget about the fuckin' black man. Because we can get this thing because we're fucking white and we're gay. You know. And that to me is no - it's terrible injust . . . And we as gay people ... we are the forerunners within political issues and when we pull a racist fucker that's when we're not as productive as we should be . . . I talk very strongly about that.  

John: I left this country . . . it was the first time I experienced what individuality was . . . I was allowed to do things that I could never do in this country . . . I came out there . . . I knew that when I came back I couldn't do bar work. I couldn't do waiting on tables and I couldn't do modelling . . . well basically . . . I've lived in a gay society since I came back to this country. I think I had really different coming out to a lot of other Aboriginal gay men because I came out in another country. 

Mark describes himself as: 'a young gay Aboriginal man, living in Sydney, who knows Sydney very well'. He says: 
I know a lot about urban Aboriginal culture even though I've never lived in an Aboriginal community. For example, body language. The way we talk and speak body language to each other. But that's part of culture too. 
Mark comments on his experience of racism in the Sydney gay community: 
It's that understanding of the culture . . . it always ends in an argument 'cause they say they understand and they don't . . . always the problem and it's always the arguments . . . the debate that they're better, that they know more. It is where are you coming from culturally and he didn't have an answer. If he ignores the fact that we have a culture and wants to change you, you know you are going to have really big problems. A joke is a joke but I'm sick of the jokes . . . 'cause that's where we live and stuff. It would be nice to go to a gay dinner party without sitting there and explaining the fuckin' Aboriginal culture to them . . . you know . . . go and fucking find out yourself. They always put that Aboriginal thing first before you become a 'friend' or a 'person'. You know you're Aboriginal first and then you're whoever you are.  

James: Just because you are gay doesn't mean that you are not racist . . . it is something I learned about when it came to the crunch . . . I've come across a lot of racism within the gay community. 

Bruce recalls an Aboriginal performance in the mainstream gay community: 
When we first started off we were on one side of the room and they were on the other. They didn't know whether we were gay or not. So we came half way . . . eventually they came to us and the next minute we're sharing food, hanging off each other . . . they realised we were human just like they were. It changed their attitudes. 
About a group watching an Aboriginal Mardi Gras float: 
'How can they afford to hire a ute?' 'What are they doing here, they are supposed to be up at the fringe' and all that - I was stunned. 
Like once I was at the Lizard Lounge [bar in gay precinct] and this woman said to me 'You know, you all remind me of my Doberman. You sort of sit back and watch the world go by,' and I think to myself you should have hit her, should I tell all my other black friends here so we can tumble her? Like who is being aggressive here? - and she was pissed off her face [drunk]. So. I think who is the alcoholic here, who is the aggressive person? . . . I mean she thought she knew what she was talking about. 
The racism in the Sydney gay community was an issue with most of the Aboriginal interviewees. Although recently some steps have been taken by gay community bodies to combat this, and Aboriginal gays and lesbians themselves have increasingly raised their profile in community events, it remains an issue that requires further gay community response. Many interviewees felt that apart from the racism they experienced 'on the ground', there was a general failure on the part of gay community organisations to promote dialogue and confront their concerns. Some felt that any initiatives had to start with an acceptance of a culturally appropriate 'Aboriginal way' of doing things. 

© HIV, AIDS and Society Publications 1996 
This report may not be copied without the express permission of the copyright holder. 
ISBN 085837 832 9