Gay and homosexually active Aboriginal men in Sydney



Religion emerged from the research as a major theme that needs to be analysed as integral to this discursive construction of homosexuality/gayness as 'white man's disease' and its powerful correlation with HIV/AIDS. Historically in Australia missionary activity among Aboriginal people has been very prominent from the first days of colonisation. Western 'morality' was and remains an instrument of dominative power. Feminist scholars in particular have published several accounts of how missionary activity has been integral to Aboriginal people's experience of gender relations in Northern Australia (Hamilton 1981).  

Religion involves a history of a complex institutional relationship for doing social 'good'. Aboriginal people today maintain a notion of spirituality that is based on a sense of identity, and 'sharing and caring' is a widely used community slogan. The consensus among most scholars is that Western religion has had a profound social effect on Aboriginal culture. The evidence points to an often contradictory relationship between Aboriginal culture and religion. Further work is needed to uncover how the missionary proscriptions on homosexuality, which are documented in the anthropological literature, have shaped Aboriginal sociality and sexuality. The expression 'mission' is sometimes used generally to describe the influence of religion and government, rather than specifically referring to a mission as an actual institution or residential site. Again issues of regionality are implicit in this context, as missions, although used by Aboriginal people as a general term to refer to religious institutions, were in fact only a few specific locations in New South Wales but more widespread elsewhere in Australia. 

John: I really think that religion is probably one of the biggest destructions of Aboriginal society . . . I, we know what missions are about . . . don't expect me to jump on that bandwagon when Aboriginal people have been put through a very severe mentality, you know that's the whole issue. 
Luke Close, a former HIV worker in the Aboriginal community: 
The church has no role in combating HIV/AIDS if all they use is judgement. Aboriginal culture was here before Jesus Christ landed on planet earth. He didn't come here to save us. The bible has been used to try and destroy our culture (Close 1992: 23). 
Other contemporary Aboriginal gay comment addresses the concern that the 'missionary' influence is still considerable. 
My parents grew up on a predominantly Church of England mission, and I think that happened all around Australia, that Christians, the missionaries, got to the mob first. . . . So a lot of homophobia stems from Christianity, it seems - 'proper morals' (E.J. Milera, quoted in GLAA, 1993: 26). 
All the interviewees referred to the perception among sections of the Aboriginal community that homosexuality and its correlation with AIDS were considered in terms of religious strictures. 
Michael: She goes to Church. She said to me, 'Ah! The ghost who walks. I thought you were dead.' I said that's a wonderful religious attitude. You know in a sarcastic way. 
My older brother only rings me because I'm fuckin' sick. But that's only religion that he calls me. Otherwise fuck all, irrespective of my brother, you know; that strong. That strong. 
The literature from the United States helps provide a theoretical perspective of these interrelations and their complexity. Sears writes that the 'life stories of African-American males [whom he has interviewed] . . . illustrate how their families' religious faith and its intersection with black community, culture, and history complicates [sic] their emerging homosexual identity' (Sears 1991: 64). 
In several areas of rural Australia I learned that condoms were not 'allowed' to be promoted on the grounds that they encouraged promiscuity. In one case, an older Christian man on the board of an Aboriginal health service, refused to allow condoms to be advertised. In Brisbane information on IV use was blocked because it was felt it 'condoned' the use of drugs (Brady 1993: 32). 
Despite the complexity of the issues around religion and race it remains evident that precisely because black churches are agents for social control and socialisation, their participation in addressing homophobia is crucial to the black communities' response to HIV/AIDS in the United States. There are certainly differences in this context in Australia but the reality that a significantly high proportion of Aboriginal people identify as Christian cannot be disputed and the similarities render the consideration of these churches as a site of agency a valid one. 

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