At the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York this week, human rights and public health advocate Dameyon Bonson has been drawing attention to a lack of data and research into the prevention of suicide for Indigenous LGBQTI people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex). (See tweet-photo below).
Similar concerns were also raised at the inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference, held recently in Alice Springs, as reported by The Guardian.
In the article below, Bonson highlights critical data gaps surrounding the incarceration of Indigenous LGBTQI people, providing a useful briefing for policy makers and funders.
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Dameyon Bonson writes:
As the #JustJustice series is showing, we know many of the solutions to reducing the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; the gaps are in creating the political and policy will to make this happen.
In one area, however, the gaps are far more fundamental.
When it comes to Indigenous LGBTQI people, very little is known about our interactions with policing and justice systems. We know even less about how policing and justice systems are responding to our particular needs.
However, the answers to these do need to be informed by a yet to be determined, central cultural capability mandate that takes into account of one’s gender, sexuality and their identification as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
The reason for this is two-fold. Historically we know that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people receive an unjust experience in the justice system (see both the coronial inquiry into Ms Dhu and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody ).
When we look abroad, Indigenous LGBQTI people, in this case Native Americans, experience even more prejudice and discrimination than their heterosexual counterparts and LGBQTI people of any other racial/ethnic backgrounds.
The important nature of this is the high risk of suicide and self-harm this places on the inmate, and to the susceptibility to hate crimes; of a phobic nature and racial.
Transgender inmates are particularly vulnerable, suggest recent newspaper reports in Australia and New Zealand. However, it is noted that ‘inmates who are known or perceived as gay, especially lesbians and gay men with stereotypically effeminate or butch characteristics, face “a very high risk of sexual abuse.“’
Given that the #JustJustice series is providing a briefing paper to politicians, policymakers and others with the power to help reduce the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, below are the five questions I’d like to see answered.
1. Reliable data about the incarceration of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people.
I believe that nobody should be forced to disclose their sexuality upon incarceration; however, if indeed this is self-identified, this information must only be used to protect the individual. Like other at risk groups in prison, this information would strengthen a request to be placed in a more protective area. This may simply be a tick of a box or a written answer.
2. Reliable data about the crimes experienced or committed by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people.
Reliable data about crimes against and committed by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people would ensure a far greater picture of the level of criminality affecting this group of people. Questions could be asked about: a) the type of crime committed by an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI person; or b) a crime has been committed against an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI person.
3. What types of services are needed for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people interacting with police and justice systems?
The first step would see the Custody Notification Service informed of the type of issues and experiences faced by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people and their needs around safety. Ideally, this would be Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI; however, a fact sheet is a great start. It could explain what the escalated risks are and the appropriate support. It is my view that a third party organisation could also provide this culturally capable support.
4. What is the impact of policing and justice on the health of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people? What is the relationship between contact with policing and justice systems, and suicide for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people?
Without the raw data, we can only go on anecdotes and media reports. The highest profile case of a transgendered Indigenous Australian is that of Veronica Baxter. Ms Baxter, despite living her life as a woman, was placed in a men’s prison. Her death, after a coronial inquiry, was determined to be due to suicide.
The Gender Centre in NSW does highlight the Management of Transgender Inmates. However, how this management is applied appears to be discretionary. A friend who is a Sistergirl told me of an of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander transwoman, also a Sistergirl, who was recently was murdered in the NT. Her trans* identity was not recorded. This raises questions about whether the murder was a hate crime.
5. How can policing and justice systems be made culturally secure for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people?
The information needs to be decided upon, by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people, on what is culturally capable within the policing and justice systems. Until then, there is the risk of guesswork and more harm than good being done.
I hope that a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI conference will be held next year. I am working on this, and it is anticipated that such a gathering will provide a framework for the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people, including those within the justice system.
• Dameyon Bonson is the founder of Black Rainbow Living Well, a self-determining non-profit movement dedicated to creating more than hope for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are diverse in gender and sexuality. Amongst other things, Black Rainbow advocates for the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people in the criminal justice system, and to address gaps in the services available to them. We aim to work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBQTI people in prison in determining the best way to fulfil this role. Dameyon lives in Broome, WA.
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You can read more than 60 #JustJustice articles published to date here.
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