The Dalarinji project originally started out with a focus on mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people aged 14-25 years living in New South Wales, Australia. The original project design focused on young people as they were in the literature framed as being the most likely to experience negative wellbeing (see Liddelow-Hunt et al., 2021; Uink et al., 2020). These concerns come out of from their experiences of living as Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ youth in colonial settler Australia. During the course of the project, however, requests came from the Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ community in NSW to include people over 25 years of age and the project increased its scope to all people over the age of 14 years for the latter stages of the research. The project was co-led and co-designed by our two partner organisations, BlaQ Aboriginal Corporation and ACON who also provided feedback and input from the Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ community in NSW.
At the start of this research project in 2019, there was very little published about the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people living in Australia. There was, however, a small body of scholarly research published on Indigenous LGBTIQ+ living in Turtle Island (the place now known as North America). Since then, research into the topic in so called Australia has blossomed and the area now has a relatively robust body of evidence, albeit still emergent and dispersed across various disciplines and with different research foci. On a positive note, many of the publications in this area are led or co-led by Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ researchers themselves with their white settler co-authors also identifying as LGBTIQ+. The Dalarinji Project, for example, had a total of seven researchers on the team all of whom contributed to interviews, focus groups and publications. Four of the Dalarinji team have ties across the Wiradjuri, Birra Gubba, Wakka Wakka, Walbunja, Tingha and Dunghutti peoples. The remainder of the team have Croatian, Istro-Romanian, Jewish, English, Scottish and Irish backgrounds.
This research field is also constantly growing and changing, and there is a need to consolidate and map research approaches, findings, and outcomes to better understand its evidential directions and gaps. To date, for example, the project team working on the Dalarinji project has published a total of nine academic journal articles, one book chapter and two research reports to community. Dalarinji also organised an international symposium in Sydney, which was attended by Indigenous peoples, Indigenous queer peoples, non-Indigenous settlers, and non-Indigenous queer settler scholars from across Australia, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Turtle Island (USA). This symposium provided a landmark moment to pause and reflect upon the work that has been achieved, and the suggestions regarding ways to move forward. Other research teams and individual researchers have also added seminal and significant information about Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people’s lived experiences (for example, see Day et al., 2023; Henningham, 2021; Hill et al., 2021, 2022; Liddelow-Hunt et al., 2021, 2023; O’Sullivan, 2021; Phelan & Oxley, 2021; Rhodes & Byrne, 2021; Sullivan, 2021; Uink et al., 2020). This paper aims to consolidate one of the current research project’s findings on this topic, the Dalarinji project, while also acknowledging the impressive progress made in this area by other scholars. Unlike many previous scholarly work, the Dalarinji project took a strengths-based approach that stressed well-being rather than dis-ease, deficit, and dysfunction (see Walter, 2016 and Walter et al., 2021 on the politics of Indigenous data (mis)representation). The article takes a chronological structure, starting with a review of key themes from the evidence base at the start of the project. We make no claims as to its comprehensiveness, the main aim is to pick up on the key content, direction, and themes within the literature at the time. The article will then discuss the methods used in the project and synthesise the key thematic findings and outcomes of the project finishing with a discussion of current trends and future needs. The aim of this article is to provide an overview of key research directions prior to the project, the contributions the project has made to the field and to analyse the needs, gaps and directions for the future. We have included in the following literature review Indigenous and gender and/or sexuality diversity writers where these authors have openly identified their connections to Country and gender and/ or sexuality diversity.
I was born during the year of 1962. In the 1960s, I wasn’t even a young human – as an Aboriginal woman I was still part of the flora and fauna. Being a lesbian was probably worse than being flora and fauna in some people’s eyes. But I did as I do – I took it on the chin (Fay June Ball, 2015, p. 68).
The Dalarinji project started in 2019 at a time when information was modest. Although there were settler letters, diaries, observations, and some research (much of it anthropological) into Indigenous gender and sexuality diversity (Baylis, 2015), to the best of our knowledge, the 1990s was the start of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people writing about their lives from their perspective. Written texts are, of course, only partially reflect the complexities and richness of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ peoples’ experiences. Unfortunately, due to the dominance of white settler written traditions in research, written texts have tended to be the main way that stories have been shared and disseminated within academia and scholarly research. In 1993, Hodge a non-Indigenous scholar, published a seminal book, Have you seen any Malagas?, which included some of the first oral histories written down and published about the experiences and lives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous gay cismen and the trans community in the Northern Territory.
However, the collaboration between five Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ authors and two white settler scholars (Dunn-Holland et al., 1994) is, to the best of our knowledge, the first time that Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people used their voices to write directly about their own experiences. In this chapter titled, ‘Peopling the Empty Mirror: The Prospects for Lesbian and Gay Aboriginal History’, Dunn-Holland and co-authors (1994) reflected on issues such as Indigenous attitudes towards gender and/or sexuality diversity, LGBTIQSB±phobia, racism in the non-Indigenous LGBTIQ+ community and tensions between Indigeneity and gender and/or sexuality diverse identities (Dunn-Holland et al., 1994).
Although this does not reflect the realities of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ lives and the ongoing challenges and activism taking place in Australia, it took more than a decade for more written texts to follow. Two books were published in 2015, collecting the stories and life experiences of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ peoples highlighting discrimination and marginalisation as well their strengths and capabilities navigating the Australian settler state. In 2015, Wiradjuri gay man David Hardy brought together an iconic collection of personal stories and ideas written by older lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, some of whom are Indigenous (Hardy, 2015). In a chapter in Hardy’s (2015) book, Dawn Daylight (2015, p. 204) talks about her journey as an older lesbian cis-woman, “With my life journey, I have been health worker and tutor and elder, and the wisdom that comes with it has given me the strength to sway who I am”. In 2015, Hodge also built on this previous work with another book, Colouring the Rainbow, a collection of life histories and reflections by 22 Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people about settler heteronormativity, family, culture, identity, queerphobia, racism, art, performance, and decolonisation. When relevant, other information from these early publications are discussed in more detail below.
Health & ill-being
Within the community I come from, my family does not see me as transgendered or sistergirl. I am Kooncha. I’m seen as a woman, a daughter, a sister, an aunty, and a mother - a valuable part of the family, a carer and a supporter. Most of the time my sexual identity doesn’t come into it (Kooncha Brown, 2004, p. 25).
One of the first of the publications to focus on Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ health was written by Kooncha Brown (2004), a Koori Sistergirl who worked on the first ACON Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Transgender/ Sistergirl Project. Her paper is the earliest written Indigenous-led and solely authored paper as far as we know. This paper aimed to give an “introduction to ‘Indigenous Australian Sistergirls’” (2004, p. 25) and focused on the rights, experiences and challenges of living as a Sistergirl. Kooncha Brown’s (2004) earlier work on HIV and health for Sistergirls and Indigenous trans peoples has been expanded significantly in subsequent decades. There were various publications on the broad topic of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ health and wellbeing up to 2019, much of it focused on HIV/AIDS, mental ill-being, and suicide prevention. A non-Indigenous scholar, Stephen Kerry (2014), for example, summarised six research projects and six conference presentations between 1994 and 2012 on the experiences of Indigenous trans people, concluding that they experience high levels of disadvantage and social exclusion that impacts on their vulnerability to contracting HIV/AIDS, their identities, their levels of alcohol and substance abuse, their vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse, and their ability to engage with community. Dameyon Bonson (2015, later published as Bonson, 2021), from the Jawoyn peoples in the Northern Territory and the Bari Clan of Torres Strait Islands, also confirmed a dearth of research available about Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people and a corresponding lack of national or state strategies in place to plan and support this community’s needs regarding social and emotional wellbeing.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (Dudgeon et al., 2015) led by a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors, used information from a series of national community roundtables to reveal factors leading to higher levels of suicidality in the Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ community and the need for effective strategies for suicide prevention. This was an important addition to the literature, as the project used community roundtables with Indigenous communities to talk about strategies for suicide prevention (Dudgeon et al., 2015). The Roundtable report concludes that suicide in Indigenous communities is, “a complex, historically and culturally embedded, intertwined situation involving transgenerational trauma, grief and ongoing dislocation” (Dudgeon et al., 2015, p. 1). In order to move forward, there is a need to identify the Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ population and their wellbeing; understand the connection between gender, sexuality, and culture; work with family and community to improve understanding; and acknowledge the complex and layered trauma and discrimination in communities (Dudgeon et al., 2015).
Abuse, discrimination & disadvantage
I see people suffer everywhere, right around the world, and I am suffering in Australia, land of opportunity. Where was human rights for me? Where was the gay movement for me? Where did I stand as a person? As a transgender lady? Where were the people to protect me and my people? (Crystal Johnson quoted in Kerry, 2018b, p. 40)
At the start of the project, there was also a small subset of published papers that interrogated the levels of abuse, discrimination, and disadvantage in Indigenous trans, Brotherboy and Sistergirl communities. Kerry (2018b), a white settler scholar, argued that the most persistent challenges was related to transphobia in Aboriginal communities as well as racism within the white trans community. This led to forced dislocation of Sistergirls and Brotherboys from rural communities to urban centres. This resulted in Sistergirls and Brotherboys losing connection with Country and community and impacting negatively on their Indigenous identity and wellbeing (Kerry, 2018b). Reviewing the history of the Northern Territory’s response to HIV/AIDS and the pivotal role of community-based organisations, Kerry (2018a) reiterated his message that there was little research available, and that Indigenous trans people were especially vulnerable to the health crisis around sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS. Kerry (2018a) built on his argument that Indigenous trans communities faced racism and discrimination within white trans communities and transphobia in Indigenous communities.
Contrary to these two papers, a paper by two non-Indigenous scholars, Riggs and Toone (2017) produced a thematic analysis of existing media showed a much more mixed experience reported about family and community. Some of these experiences reported by eighteen Sistergirls in media reports were positive and others negative. For example, the ability to take up ‘traditional roles’ such as childcaring were seen as important to Sistergirls even though community could also behave in a negative way such as banning them from gendered events such as Corrobborees (Riggs & Toone, 2017).
Community, identity & unsettling heteronormativity
I was just the quiet really shy boy. Just I didn’t know how to be a boy. I mean there was these things all the time telling me how to be that but I couldn’t be that. I couldn’t understand the rules of gender (Majesty quoted in Sullivan, 2018, p. 9).
Another small set of papers looked at how community worked for Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people, interrogating their relationships with family, community for Indigenous gender and/or sexuality diverse sex workers. Wiradjuri scholar, Corrinne Sullivan (2018) took a geographical approach to understanding the lived experiences of an Indigenous trans sex worker called Majesty. Sullivan (2018) challenges the discipline to include more research into “diverse and often silenced groups of people”, which has the potential to add new ways of conceptualising sex work, race, identity, gender, and sexuality diversity (p. 1697). Sullivan (2018) argued that understanding better the complex and varied individual and collective identities of Indigenous trans peoples provides more refined and richer information. This could potentially enable geography to challenge current settler, heteronormative and cisnormative thinking about sexual service provision (Sullivan, 2018).
Similarly, two Indigenous scholars, Sullivan and Day (2019) wrote a paper on Indigenous transmasculine sex workers and the ways in which they navigate their identities and the socio-economic necessities of working in the sexual services industry. Using Indigenous Standpoint Theory and trans geographies, they explore participants’ strategies for negotiating their sexuality, gender, and emotion (Sullivan & Day, 2019). Recognising the tensions and intersections between Indigenous Standpoint Theory and trans geographies, the authors “recognize the productive intersections between the two as they both seek to destabilize categorizations of sexuality and gender, further, when linked, trans geography and Indigenous Standpoint invite a critique of heteronormativity as a colonial project. This framework offers tools to investigate Indigenous narratives leading to broader questions about the ways in which Indigenous trans people negotiate spaces and how these spaces influence and shape bodily autonomy and agency” (p. 1). The paper challenges settler, heteropatriarchal framings of trans sex workers of colour, showing how Indigenous transmasculine sex workers transform understandings of their work from victimhood to empowerment and agential potentiality. Sullivan and Day (2019) argue that these kinds of nuanced and complex understandings of gender and sexuality diversity and race could ultimately expand and enrich the discipline of geography.
While I recognize Indigenous queer and trans studies as a global discipline, I see its emergence in Australia as both distinctive and connected to global developments. While Native American and Two-Spirit scholars have contributed greatly to Indigenous queer and trans studies in Australia, it is important to recognize our contexts as socially, culturally, and politically separate and different (Day, 2020, p. 368).
In 2019-2020, there were two papers available that explored the experiences and needs of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people studying at higher education institutions in Australia. Kuku Yalanji Brotherboy Madi Day’s (2020) paper discussed the context and significance of the first Indigenous Queer and Trans Studies program at Macquarie University that emerged out of Indigenous Studies and more than a decade of work by Indigenous queer and trans academics. Day (2020) discusses the history of development of Indigenous Queer and Trans Studies, and the complex relationship Indigenous academics and educators have with settler institutions that have both educated and enculturated them. Day (2020) stressed the importance of this relatively new and unique discipline reflecting as it does the ability of Indigenous people to successfully navigate and use institutions normally associated with heteronormative, cisgendered and assimilationist approaches.
Corrinne Sullivan and Madi Day’s (2021) follow-up article about the inclusion and exclusion of Indigenous queer and gender Diverse (QGD) people in higher education challenges educational institutions to take into account their unique and inseparable gender and/or sexuality diversity and cultural identities. Sullivan and Day’s (2021) research found that rather than catering for the needs of this cohort, they are frequently marginalised, excluded and overlooked in Australia’s institutions of higher education, which impacts negatively on student access, retention, and achievement.
Theory & method
There is emerging a clear need for critical and autonomous histories of Aboriginal sexuality to be written and discussed by Aboriginal people. However, the idea that our history has a linear progression with a starting point, or needs one, can be read as a legacy of the social mechanisms of history writing that have informed the settler colonial state. We don’t need to be able to construct ourselves in written historical accounts in order to consider ourselves real and whole (Alizzi, 2015a, p. 238).
Another small set of articles and book chapters also interrogated theories around what it meant to be Indigenous, Queer, and living in settler colonial Australia. Many of these critical reflections appeared as chapters in the ground-breaking book by Hodge (2015), Colouring the Rainbow, mentioned previously. Bundjalung scholar Ali Alizzi (2015a), discusses the introduction of queer theory into Indigenous studies globally and in Australia. Alizzi (2015a) highlighted the limitations imposed by institutional and structural constraints imposed by settler universities and academic careers in Indigenous Queer studies and the challenges the politics of (re)naming Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ experiences and histories as ‘queer’. Alizzi (2015a) goes on to, “question the potential of Indigenous Studies and Trans Studies to both challenge and to reify epistemic violence, heteronormative knowledge systems and institutions, highlight tensions inherent in collaborating with both grassroots queer, trans and Indigenous community and institutional knowledges” (p. 2). Alizzi (2015a) also asks, if this is the case, how do Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ academics transcend the “boundaries of neoliberal knowledge accumulation” enabling more creative, transformative theoretical work to unsettle settler heteropatriarchal and cisnormative knowledges more effectively?
Baylis (2015), “a descendant of the Jawoyn people from the Northern Territory” (p. xiii), introduced the book, Colouring the Rainbow (Hodge, 2015). Baylis provides a history and synthesis of key works about Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people arguing that colonisation has “constructed a silencing force that mutes Queer-Aboriginality” (p. 1). Baylis (2015) also argued that Indigenous gender and/or sexuality diverse people’s absence from history was a deliberate strategy by colonial settlers to “reinforce a hetero-centric reading of Aboriginal cultures” (p. 1). The task then for ‘Queer Aboriginal’ studies then was to “unsettle the ways that colonisation has constructed Aboriginality” (Baylis, 2015, p. 1).
Alizzi (2015a) follows with a chapter in Colouring the Rainbow interrogating the concepts of the “queer politic” and Indigenous queer histories. History in Australia, they argued, was an important tool used to justify settler colonisation, the “large scale and assaultive control over Aboriginal peoples’ bodies”, the displacement of Indigenous peoples and the establishment of white settler state institutions (Alizzi, 2015a, p. 241). Alizzi (2015a) argued there was a need for Indigenous queer histories of Indigenous sexuality and gender diversity written by Indigenous people, independent of white settler histories.
Monaghan (2015), a Murri cisman and person of colour, argued that it is impossible to neatly divide up identity into separate, discrete parts, that it is not possible to separate out their queer identity and Indigeneity from their Chinese, Anglo or Indian ancestries as they are integral and connected (p. 195). Monaghan (2015) argued that these complex intersections could be liberating and open up spaces of resistance to settler colonial heteropatriarchy by underscoring the gendered and sexual elements of colonialism. Monaghan (2015) also analysed the relationship between sexuality, gender and the settler colonial state and the ways in which Indigenous gender and/or sexuality diversity was displaced by settler heteronormativities and cisnormativities. Monaghan calls for the “denaturalisation of settlement” in order to query the origins of heteronormativity embedded in settler colonial institutions and states for “when we denaturalise settlement, we denaturalise the social control required to institute the state as an inherently exclusionary, colonialist and racist institution” (pp. 206-207).
In their chapter in Colouring the Rainbow, Wiradjuri transgender/non-binary scholar Sandy O’Sullivan (2015) queried the “identity markers” that have been used to “further pathologise, or to measure disadvantage or difference in the depiction of the racialised body” (p. 208). Taking a life history approach, O’Sullivan (2015) argued that Indigenous queer people must be central to any external understanding or conceptualisation of the complexities of Indigeneity and sexuality and interrogated the balance of responsibility with the wider community and the dangers of homogenisation. Speaking of their work history and the “unspoken contract that required me to conform, behave and dress in particular ways”, they stressed that, despite not always recognizing their own agency over their life course, their “heterogeneous identity was intact, still multiple and faceted” (O’Sullivan, 2015, p. 209). Over their lifetime, O’Sullivan (2015) came to (re)connect with their Indigeneity through speaking with other Indigenous academics, community, and family to reintegrate their complex, different identities.
Interrogating the topic from the perspective of research ethics Wiradjuri scholar, Corrinne Sullivan (2020), provided an overview of key concerns about conducting research with Indigenous sex workers based on her own research experiences. Sullivan (2020) addressed ethical concerns about accessing communities and researcher responsibilities regarding this diverse, complex group. The aim of the paper was to share critical reflections about some of the assumptions underpinning the research process, ethical engagement with Indigenous communities, and research participants and to outline researcher responsibilities (Sullivan, 2020). In navigating these factors, Sullivan (2020) found that working with and for community-based organisations requires considerable attention to power dynamics and the subtle power of representation.
As can be seen from the above review, at the start of the Dalarinji project, there were only a handful of publications addressing the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people in Australia (Soldatic et al., 2022; Spurway, Soldatic, et al., 2022). However, only two of these publications included young people aged 14-25 years in their research although neither disaggregated their data by age (Bonson, 2015; Dudgeon et al., 2015). The body of scholarly research from Turtle Island at the time showed that the four key health concerns for Indigenous LGBTIQ+ people were morbidity and mortality, mental health, substance use and sexually transmitted infections (Ristock et al., 2011). Historical trauma, violence, childhood physical and sexual abuse, and inequalities within the health system were also associated with poor outcomes in Canadian and U.S. Indigenous LGBTIQ+ populations (Ristock et al., 2011).
The handful of academic papers on young Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ peoples’ social and emotional wellbeing (Soldatic et al., 2022; Spurway, Soldatic, et al., 2022), focused primarily on young adults (above 18 years), suicidality (Bonson, 2015; Dudgeon et al., 2015) and Sistergirls living outside NSW (Kerry, 2014; Riggs & Toone, 2017). In fact, in 2019 our project team was unaware of any systematic attempts in Australia to deepen and enrich our understanding of these topics and to develop culturally responsive and respectful interventions at either the individual, community, or sectoral level. It was within this context that the Dalarinji project began to assemble voices of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people in NSW, to co-design and publish culturally and gender and/or sexuality appropriate service delivery recommendations.
This article analyses data from a set of papers produced by the Dalarinji project team working in collaboration with BlaQ Aboriginal Corporation and ACON. This is the fifteenth output in a series of publications from a larger project that investigated the wellbeing and lived experiences of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people in the place now known as New South Wales, Australia. The study was funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) under its Targeted Call 2018 Indigenous Social and Emotional Well-being Funding Round (Grant ID: 1157377). The NHMRC project aimed to improve the understanding of young Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people’s well-being and their experiences and aspirations regarding service provision.
The article syntheses the key findings and themes found over the course of this project. The articles, book chapter and community reports analysed here were based on 16 in-depth interviews with Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people aged 14–25 years living in NSW. Over the course of the project, the research team and its community collaborators, BlaQ Aboriginal Corporation and ACON, received requests from community that we expand the age range of the project to include people over the age of 25 years. This reflected the fact that older members of the Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ community felt that their stories were different, as important as younger members and wanted to contribute. Consequently, the project scope for the latter half of the project included older Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ community members and the state-wide online survey and focus group discussions also included Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ aged 25 years and up. The online workshops included Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ Elders, young people, and service providers. Participants were recruited using Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ social networks, social media posts, and service provider networks including ACON, BlaQ, Twenty10, Campbelltown City Council, and Infant Child Adolescent Mental Health (ICAMHS) in NSW Health. The interviews and workshops took place via Zoom due to Covid-19 restrictions in Australia at the time.
All phases of the research process were co-designed and co-led by Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people. This paper was reviewed and approved by Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people on the project’s Indigenous research governance group, BlaQ Aboriginal Corporation and the NSW Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council’s (AH&MRC) Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). The project received ethics approval from the AH&MRC (HREC Ref. 1536/19) on August 27, 2019. All quotes used in articles were reviewed and approved for publication by each of the participants quoted in each of the publications in acknowledgment of their ownership and control of their stories. The project’s working name reflects this ownership: ‘Dalarinji’, a Gadigal word for ‘Your Story’. Interviews, workshops, and the qualitative segments of the survey were thematically analysed to allow for concepts and themes to emerge, enabling connections between cases and concepts to emerge (Charmaz, 2006; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Quantitative elements of the online survey were interrogated using simple descriptive analytic techniques to summarise and describe participant demographics and their responses.
The interviews and survey included a wide range of participants who identified as proud First Nations peoples from the Birpai, Bundjalung, Djangadi, Gumbayngirr, Kamilaroi, Meriam, Murri, Muruwari, Mineng/ Noongar, Nunukul, Wakka Wakka, Wiradjuri, Wuthathi, Yuin and Zenadh Kes Countries. Many participants identified with more than one Indigenous nation and had a variety of intersecting genders and sexualities. These included bisexual, brothaboy, fluid, gay, lesbian, non-binary, demisexual, omnisexual, pansexual, queer, sistagirl, trans, and unsure. Participants all lived in urban areas (ABS, 2016), most living within the greater Sydney area except for one participant from a large regional city. The project participants’ location reflects the project’s place-based approach that focused only on participants living in NSW.Although participants mostly lived in urban areas that was not their Country, participants reported maintaining strong connections with their Nations of origin and those lands and waters under their custodianship.
Dalarinji project findings
The Dalarinji project started work with a review of the existing evidence on the existing evidence of the social and emotional wellbeing of young Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people. These reviews confirmed the fact that there was little research available on the topic at the start of the project in 2019-2020. Subsequent project publications took various analytic and theoretic foci that are explained in more detail in subsequent sections, such as applying human rights to the experiences, concerns and needs of participants; participants’ aspirations for viable alternative futures; Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ identity, belonging and connectedness (inclusion/exclusion); and the need for improved gender and/or sexuality diverse and culturally appropriate service provision. In almost all of the areas of inquiry, there was very little research to build on, and in many cases none at all. All publications were written by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Dalarinji team members as explained on page three above. This section will outline the articles and book chapter produced by the Dalarinji project team and the project publications’ findings on each of the themes.
Mapping the evidence
The first publications of the Dalarinji project reviewed and mapped the existing scholarly research base on Indigenous LGBTIQ+ peoples (Soldatic et al., 2022; Spurway, Soldatic, et al., 2022). At the time, it was clear there was a dearth of evidence available on the intersection of youth, Indigeneity and LGBTIQSB+ people’s social and emotional wellbeing (Bonson, 2015; Dudgeon et al., 2015). These evidence syntheses found twenty-six scholarly papers globally on the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous LGBTIQ+ young people, only two papers of which were from Australia (Bonson, 2015; Dudgeon et al., 2015). Many papers found in the review did have Indigenous lead authors and some also applied strength-based approaches to wellbeing such as an “Indigenist” model of health (Balsam et al., 2004). However, many research papers took a deficit model, describing higher rates of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse for Indigenous LGBTIQ+ populations and consequential poor social and emotional wellbeing outcomes (Soldatic et al., 2022; Spurway, Soldatic, et al., 2022).
The Dalarinji evidence reviews also highlighted the critical importance within the literature of colonisation, invasion, forced displacement by settler colonial populations. The reviews also highlighted the research’s reported impact of the imposition of settler institutions, Christianisation, and values such as heteronormativity and cisnormativity on Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ peoples (Soldatic et al., 2022; Spurway, Soldatic, et al., 2022). The literature showed that historical and intergenerational trauma from everyday microaggressions, to structural discrimination, racism and marginalisation impacted the wellbeing of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people. The evidence base in English at the time only included publications from four settler colonial countries with Indigenous populations: the Turtle Island/ USA, Turtle Island/Canada, Turtle Island/Mexico, and Australia (Soldatic et al., 2022; Spurway, Soldatic, et al., 2022). Once the project had mapped the literature and understood the directions, content, and gaps in the evidence base, the project team conducted fieldwork which generated the subsequent papers described below on human rights; identity, belonging and connectedness; viable alternative futures and service provision.
Another area of scholarship the project produced papers on was the strengths and failures of a human rights approach for Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that a human rights approach has been applied to the concerns and experiences of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people in Australia. Two papers by the Dalarinji project team made up of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ and non-Indigenous queer scholars applied a human rights perspective to the lived experiences of the project interview and survey participants (Briskman et al., 2022; Sullivan et al., 2021). Briskman and colleagues (2022) argue that there is a distinct difference between Western concepts of individual rights and Indigenous understandings that rely more on collective rights that extend beyond the individual person and nuclear family. Briskman et al. (2022) stress the need for a contextualised approach that accounts for past as well as current human rights’ abdications: “For health to be seen as a human rights issue, acknowledgment of past and continuing settler colonialism’s subjugation of Indigenous peoples must occur. The Human Rights Council argues that “forced assimilation, political and economic marginalization, discrimination and prejudice, poverty and other legacies of colonialism have also led to a lack of control over individual and collective health”” Briskman et al., 2022, p. 38)
Another publication by the Dalarinji team led by Corrinne Sullivan and colleagues (2021) was a final report to community provides an overview of the relevant Human Rights Frameworks that apply to Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people in Australia. The report also summarised the project’s key findings to date, key themes included spaces where people feel safe/comfortable or unsafe/uncomfortable; experiences of coming out; intergenerational stories of significance; experiences of discrimination, abuse, racism and LGBTIQSB+ phobia; pre-invasion stories of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people and people’s experiences and needs regarding service provision (Sullivan et al., 2021). The report highlighted government failure at all levels to protect rights of participants and to implement rights-based principles from key international conventions such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Sullivan et al., 2021).
The Dalarinji team, led this time by Linda Briskman (Briskman et al., 2022) also used interviews with Indigenous LGBTIQ+ young people to highlight the failings of the Australian state regarding implementing human rights in any meaningful way. Despite attempts to restore rights in areas such as through health equity campaigns and lobbying for legislative changes including same sex marriage legislation, the paper shows that the denial of rights is still prevalent in institutions such as schools, universities, service provision and workplaces (Briskman et al., 2022). The authors call for transforming organisational and institutional responses with “restorative measures” based on “sensitivity and thoughtfulness”, such as professional codes of conduct and ethical frameworks (Briskman et al., 2022). The authors also highlight participant calls for simple acts to demonstrate support and allyship such as displaying Indigenous and rainbow flags in reception areas, waiting rooms and clinics and an Acknowledgement of Country (Briskman et al., 2022). Applying a human rights-based approach showed the need for strategies to improve wellbeing, for culturally and gender and/or sexuality appropriate service provision and effective rights-based legislation and policy frameworks implemented within Australian policy and practices. These two papers added unique information to the human rights literature about Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people’s needs and challenges within settler colonial Australia, pressing the call for meaningful engagement by the Australian government to implement and apply human rights conventions and principles at federal, state and local levels.
Identity, belonging and connectedness
The Dalarinji team also published articles that interrogated topics related to identity, belonging and connectedness between Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people and their families and communities in a series of papers from 2021 to 2023 (Soldatic, Briskman, et al., 2021; Sullivan, Tran, et al., 2022; Sullivan et al., 2023). Globally, identity has been the subject of considerable debate as Indigenous LGBTIQ+ scholars have investigated both historical and contemporary practices and values within Indigenous communities. Much of this research comes from scholars in Turtle Island/Canada (Brotman et al., 2002; Robinson, 2017), the Turtle Island/USA (Hulko & Hovanes, 2018; Little Crow et al., 1997; O’Brien, 2015; Walters, 1997; Walters et al., 2006; Wilson, 1996) and Aotearoa/New Zealand (Aspin & Hutchings, 2007; Murray, 2003). Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ scholars in Australia have also queried the use of the ‘alphabet soup’ (LGBTIQ+), whether Indigenous people could be called ‘queer’ and how Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people connect with, and relate to, Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities (Alizzi, 2015a; Baylis, 2012; Farrell, 2015).
Using information gathered during the in-depth interviews with Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people, articles led by a non-Indigenous scholar, Karen Soldatic (Soldatic, Briskman, et al., 2021; Soldatic, Sullivan, et al., 2021) were the first to consider the topic of social exclusion and inclusion for this community. Participants’ stories showed the myriad ways in which social inclusion/exclusion processes within both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities impacted on young people’s social and emotional wellbeing (Soldatic, Briskman, et al., 2021). Young people reported being significantly affected by the degree of acceptance and support they receive from their families. Participants identified the central role of mothers, who played a key role in enabling participants to feel safe and comfortable within family and community spaces (Soldatic, Briskman, et al., 2021). Even though participants reported non-Indigenous urban LGBTIQ+ communities being at times seen as a ‘second family’ that accepted and supported them in their gender and/or sexuality diversity, structural racism within these communities was consistently reported as a problem limiting young people’s sense of inclusion (Soldatic, Briskman, et al., 2021).
A second article from the Dalarinji project team led by Wiradjuri author Corrinne Sullivan interrogated the proposition that a positive relationship exists between community belonging and well-being in Indigenous Australian contexts by analysing how Indigenous Australians who are gender and/or sexuality diverse viewed their connections with the different communities they intersect (Sullivan, Coe, et al., 2022a). Drawing on the qualitative interviews with LGBTIQSB+ Indigenous youth, the Dalarinji researchers found that many participants had common experiences of conflict and isolation with Indigenous kinship networks and communities. Despite this, participants stressed the importance of strengthening community, and their feelings of belonging and connectedness within the Indigenous LGBTIQSB+
community. Another paper by the Dalarinji project team findings showed that the relationship of Indigenous LGBTIQSB + young people with their Indigenous mothers, which provided a positive counter narrative to settler framings of Indigenous mothering as dysfunctional and harmful (Sullivan, Tran, et al., 2022). Indigenous LGBTIQSB + young people overwhelmingly spoke about the ways their Indigenous mothers defended, affirmed, and advocated for them, providing them with essential protective skills and strategies that enabled them to effectively navigate close and extended familial and community contexts (Sullivan, Tran, et al., 2022). Indigenous mothering of their LGBTIQSB+ children was overwhelmingly a positive experience for participants, highlighting the strengths and positive relationship they had with their mothers.
Using participant experiences from the project’s interviews with young people, Soldatic et al. (2023b) used an Indigenous concept of family violence to reorient family violence discussions away from Western heteronormative framings and highlight the complex impact on young participants. Themes of connection/disconnection and belonging/alienation were demonstrated in participant experiences of family and community in rural and regional towns compared to more positive experiences in urban settings (Soldatic et al., 2023b). Participants also identified differences between generations, older and extended family members such as grandparents were more likely to behave and react negatively to participants’ gender and/or sexuality diversity (Soldatic et al., 2023b). Participant experiences were connected to communities they lived in, as most of the participants lived in urban centres such as Sydney, with extended family living in rural and regional communities (Soldatic et al., 2023b). Consolidating previous project findings, this paper shows ongoing feelings of close connectedness by Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people with community and the significance as well as the challenges of maintaining connections with extended family, community, and Country.
The importance of identity and belonging for Indigenous LGBTIQ+ ciswomen was further interrogated in a more recent paper by Corrinne Sullivan et al. (2023). Participants who identified as Indigenous LGBTIQ+ women, spoke about their experiences of navigating identity formation and consolidation and developing a sense of belonging revealing a diverse range of coming out stories (Sullivan et al., 2023). However, even though participants experienced exclusion and marginalisation from family, friends, community, and social spaces such as schools and universities, participants’ journeys all ended with feelings of pride in their identities and a sense of belonging within their immediate family and the non-Indigenous LGBTIQ+ community (Sullivan et al., 2023). The project publications on identity, belonging and connectedness demonstrate the ways in which young Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people maintain feelings of connection and belonging with communities that can at times, denigrate and dismiss their Indigeneity, gender and/or sexual identities. Although these papers support previous scholarly work on identity formation, and family and community connections, the research also brings new perspectives to these debates such as the importance of Indigenous mothering, and despite incidents of racism and LGBTIQSB±phobia, they also demonstrate the significant role of acceptance, connection and support from both Indigenous and LGBTIQ+ communities for participants.
The Dalarinji project also produced two papers about how Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ participants envisage and (co)create alternative futures (Soldatic et al., 2023a; Sullivan, Coe, et al., 2022b). Viable alternative futures are “the ways in which Indigenous LGBTIQ+ communities are not just creating communities of belonging of their own, but actively and intentionally carving out alternative life pathways that offer a rich diversity of life possibilities” (Soldatic et al., 2023a, p. 3). There existed a small amount of evidence about Indigenous LGBTIQ+ peoples’ aspirations for the future from overseas such as reclaiming Māori histories to build better futures in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Aspin & Hutchings, 2007) or Two-Spirit aspirations for urban citizenship in Turtle Island/USA and Turtle Island/Canada, for example (MacDonald, 2009). There are also aspirational elements in several other publications from Australia that discuss the possibilities of recreating Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ histories to understand future potentialities (Dunn-Holland et al., 1994) and discussions of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ identities and practices (Alizzi, 2017, for example).
However, these were the first publications to directly connect with the scholarly literature on viable alternative futures for Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people in Australia. Sullivan et al.‘s (2022b) book chapter used the qualitative survey findings to better understand participants’ expressions of how they resist settler-imposed experiences of suffering and hope for a better future. The authors argue that emplacing participant experiences within current settler context enables a decentring of settler discourses and a centring of Indigenous perspectives thereby unsettling settler heteronormative values and knowledges (Sullivan, Coe, et al., 2022b). While recognising the significance of negative effects of racism, abuse, marginalisation, and isolation on Indigenous LGBTIQSB+, the chapter also highlights the strategies used by participants to navigate settler-imposed value systems and institutions to create transformative change through critically engagement with social networks, family and community, cultural connectedness, and processes of professional support (Sullivan, Coe, et al., 2022b).
Soldatic et al.'s (2023a) paper explores further the intersecting theme of identity with the ways that Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people (re)construct viable alternative futures in settler Australia. The article used interviews and workshops to understand the ways in which young people (co)create lifeworlds at individual and collective levels to facilitate socially inclusive communities of belonging and associated safe spaces (Soldatic et al., 2023a). Participants identified areas of concern as well as spaces of opportunity for their viable alternative futures: pleasure and desire; creating opportunities for gender, sex, and sexuality education; and collectively creating safe spaces for Indigenous queer gathering, welcoming, and belonging (Soldatic et al., 2023a). Our work shows the strength and capacities of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ peoples to (co)create common visions and practices that can lead to viable alternative futures and overcome the constraints of settler state values and systems. Our participants demonstrated the strengths and power of individual and collective aspirations within their communities.
Providing policy and practice recommendations to service providers was always one of the main foci for the Dalarinji project. Indeed, Dalarinji was originally conceptualised as a piece of action research that would provide service providers with high quality information about the experiences, needs and aspirations of young Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ peoples regarding their social and emotional wellbeing. At the time of these project publications, there was a small set of literature available on service provision for Indigenous LGBTIQ+ people living in Turtle Island/Canada and Turtle Island/USA (see Brotman et al., 2002; Greensmith, 2015, p. 2018; Harley & Alston, 2016; Jackson, 2002; Scheim et al., 2002). In Australia, the majority publications focused on adult sexual health and HIV prevention or treatment (Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal, 1997; Costello, 2004; Hope & Haire, 2019) and racism and transphobia in services (Kerry, 2016). Dalarinji added to this small evidence base by highlighting the concerns and needs as well as the effective strategies used to navigate service provision failures by young Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people in NSW.
Access to adequate and appropriate service provision has a direct positive impact on health and wellbeing, with racism, discrimination and marginalisation contributing to health and wellbeing disparities among Indigenous queer youth. Two workshops were held near the end of the project, one involved service providers and the other young Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people. Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ youth spoke of their experiences of discrimination, stereotyping and cultural inappropriateness, that limited their access to quality service provision (Sullivan, Coe, et al., 2022b; Sullivan, Spurway, et al., 2022). Service providers, on the other hand, and despite a strongly expressed desire to improve service delivery, demonstrated little understanding of their clients’ needs and experiences (Sullivan, Coe, et al., 2022b; Sullivan, Spurway, et al., 2022). This was also reflected in service providers’ lack of competency and an inability to discuss Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people’s concerns directly with them, thereby maintaining the current white status quo (Sullivan, Coe, et al., 2022b; Sullivan, Spurway, et al., 2022).
A third workshop was held to discuss with Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ Elders and reported on in Sullivan et al. (2022). Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ Elders also identified unique concerns that they believed needed urgent action (Sullivan, Spurway, et al., 2022). These included reclaiming Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ identities; acceptance of different identities, pronouns, and language; bringing Indigenous communities along for the journey; the need for co-learning and building relationships between Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ and Indigenous communities; acknowledging and respecting consequences of the settler context and associated intergenerational community traumas. In terms of service provision, Elders stressed the need for programs to be informed and codesigned by the Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ community; for more appropriate, open, and locally relevant programs; for the creation of LGBTIQSB+ positive and culturally safe spaces in services and for targeted resources for Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ communities (Sullivan, Spurway, et al., 2022).
A final publication about the need for quality service provision and the existing failures of programs focused on young Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people’s ability to be “picky” about choosing service providers (Spurway, Sullivan, et al., 2022). Carefully navigating different services, assessing each service based on accessibility, cultural appropriateness and availability of services, participants demonstrated high levels of agency in their search to find culturally, gender and/or sexuality appropriate services that would meet their health and wellbeing needs (Spurway, Sullivan, et al., 2022). Once participants identified a potential service, they critically evaluated its suitability, assessing whether if it had visible displays of being active allies, such as Acknowledgement of Country, Indigenous and/or Rainbow flags, gender appropriate intake forms and Indigenous and/or openly LGBTIQSB+ staff (Spurway, Sullivan, et al., 2022). The article concludes that health and well-being researchers, service providers, and educators worldwide need to reflect on and challenge existing practices, programs, and policies that continue to replicate and reproduce settler-colonial heteronormative and cisnormative practices (Spurway, Sullivan, et al., 2022). Although some service providers were interested and open to ideas about the needs and aspirations of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people, they were shown to fail to provide services to this cohort and lacked the understanding and knowledge required to effectively implement culturally, gender/ and/or sexuality appropriate service provisions. One of the outcomes of the workshops was that service providers had closer connections and understandings of the Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ community and the key role of community organisations such as BlaQ Aboriginal Corporation. Much of these findings support both the Australian and international literature, especially in relationship to the clear failures of services to meet even the most basic needs of their Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ clients and the real need for high quality culturally, sexuality and/or gender diverse appropriate service delivery.
The Dalarinji project also had certain limitations to its approach and encountered several challenges that need to be considered to better understand its approach and findings. The original project design focused only on young people aged 14 to 25 years. However, as the project proceeded and word spread through community, community members approached our partner organisation, BlaQ Aboriginal Corporation, requesting we expand the scope
of the project to people over the age of 25. This idea was integrated into the online survey and workshop design; however, the interviews had already been completed at this stage of the project. Consequently, all the interview data are limited to young people only, whereas the online survey and workshops were open to people aged 14 years and over.
The project also encountered challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic with ongoing lockdowns and travel restrictions that meant the project team could not travel to regional NSW to establish the necessary relationships and rapport to be able to conduct interviews or workshops within communities outside Sydney. Consequently, participants were mostly limited to partner organisations’ networks within Sydney and participants were usually part of our partner networks such as family members and close friends. COVID-19 travel restrictions also meant that most of the interviews and workshops were held online via Zoom. This potentially could have impacted the fieldwork results. Although we had not feedback from participants that we had failed to effectively build rapport and trust with them, it is possible that participants may have been self-censoring to protect themselves and ensure felt culturally and gender and/or sexuality diversity safe. And Zoom interviews also meant a lack of confidentiality and privacy as participants often had family or friends present in their households at the time of the interviews and, at times during the interviews, parents or children entered the room where the participant was sitting. Interviews were halted whenever another person entered the room to ensure privacy and confidentiality, only recommencing if or when the other person left the room. This may have been potentially intimidating and/or limiting for participants who may not have been ‘out’ to family and friends or did not want to discuss personal details in front of them.
The Dalarinji project started in a context with very little research into the lives and experiences of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people in Australia. Two of the project’s first publications were narrative syntheses of the evidence base on the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ young people that revealed an absence of research. Although some scholarly work existed from Turtle Island (both the United States and Canada), much of this did not include young people or did not disaggregate their data by age, meaning that the findings related to youth were not available. Only one paper on health risk factors for gay Native American adolescent cismales aligned completely with the project scope (Barney, 2003).
Similarly, only two papers were published in Australia on the topic of mental health and wellbeing for Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people at that time, although neither disaggregated their data according to age (Bonson, 2015; Dudgeon et al., 2015). Building on this information, the project produced a small body of research and entered into several disciplinary debates about wellbeing, identities, aspirations for a better future, their needs in terms of service provision, and their sense of connection and belonging. In many cases, these papers were the first to investigate these topics in relation to Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people.
Since then, academic literature and research about Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people have blossomed and consolidated. There are now a small robust set of studies by Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ scholars often in collaboration with queer white settler authors about identity, social media and Indigenous activism (Farrell, 2017, 2021), primary education (Rhodes & Byrne, 2021); autoethnography and identity (Henningham, 2021); criminal justice and detention (Phelan & Oxley, 2021); sex work (Sullivan, 2021); Indigenous LGBTIQ+ creative artists (O’Sullivan, 2021); the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic (Day et al., 2022) and social and emotional wellbeing (see Day et al., 2023; Hill et al., 2021, 2022; Liddelow-Hunt et al., 2021, 2023; Uink et al., 2020).
There is, however, a lot less written developing and refining theoretical and conceptual frameworks that are uniquely about identity, Indigeneity, and queerness in Australia. Redefining and creating theoretical and conceptual work around Indigeneity, queerness and unsettling the heteronormative and cisnormative underpinnings of the Australian settler state is clearly needed. However, research teams led by Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people continue to produce research with the potential to further disrupt white settler heteronormative and cisnormative assumptions about Indigenous gender and sexuality diversity.
Given the complex and layered experiences of Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people there is a need for more research led by and for Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ people and their communities. Indigenous LGBTIQSB+ led research is critical in order to understand the different lived experiences of gender and sexuality diverse Indigenous people in Australia both individually and collectively, and how these experiences differ between communities and kinship networks. Each of these stories will add layers of complexity and potentiality, enriching current knowledge about diversity, commonalities and differences. As Alizzi (2015b) so aptly puts it: “It is important to investigate where and when we can draw parallels, solidarity and common interest in the ways we experience marginalisation, as well as recognising when that ‘comparison’ subsumes, homogenises, appropriates, erases, or colonises” (p. 252).
Please note that in this article we only use LGBTIQSB+ for Indigenous youth in Australia. For non-Indigenous LGBTIQ+ people, we use the LGBTIQ+ acronym as they do not include Sistergirls and Brotherboys. These latter terms are not used within all Indigenous communities or by all Indigenous trans people (Sullivan, 2018). Sistergirls are often translated as “transwomen” and Brotherboys as “transmen”, however, but this is not an accurate depiction as it fails to include Indigenous understandings of gender diversity (Riggs & Toone, 2017) and limits those who challenge gender binaries.
ACON is a community organisation designed by and for our communities. ACON was established in 1985 as a community response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in NSW. ACON now delivers programs and campaigns that aim to end HIV transmission in LGBTIQ+ communities (ACON, 2023) https://www.acon.org.au/
We will use the acronym LGBTIQSB+ for community in Australia, LGBTIQ+ will be used for all other communities. At times we also use the authors’ or their participants’ own stated identities.
Many papers had online preprint versions available at the start of the Dalarinji project but sometimes these have much later ‘official’ publication dates such as Sullivan and Day (preprint 2019, published 2021). These papers were influential in the project design and direction.