Vic appoints queer Indigenous commissioner | Review of northern beaches
“When I was in high school I was told that I would never do well because I was an Aboriginal person,” says Todd Fernando.
“And here I am as the youngest and first openly gay native commissioner.”
Mr. Fernando, a Kalarie from the Wiradjuri Nation, was appointed this week Victoria’s new Commissioner for LGBTIQ + Communities.
As the state’s first Indigenous queer commissioner, he will bring a new voice to Victoria’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community.
“Over the past 20 years, we have seen an incredible shift from the soft bigotry of low expectations not only for aboriginals but for gay people,” he told AAP.
“Then to exist in a state that believes equality is non-negotiable – it shows how close we are to normalizing the experiences of people with diverse sexualities and gender diversities. “
Mr Fernando, 32, is the second Commissioner to hold the post since its inception in 2015, replacing Ro Allen who was appointed Victorian Commissioner for Equal Opportunities and Human Rights earlier this year.
He has always been passionate about human rights and has a keen interest in the issues facing rural Australians after growing up in the small town of Condobolin in west-central New South Wales, which he playfully suggests was made famous by singer Shannon Noll.
While exploring his identity as a teenager, Mr. Fernando found it difficult to access LGBTIQ + services and information.
As one of the countless queer Australians to leave the bush for the bright lights, he’s now wondering why so many people keep taking the trip.
“It’s often about wanting to connect with communities that are like them, wanting welcoming and inclusive services,” he said.
“I’m not saying we have to have drag queens at the local pub every Friday night – but the ability for a young gay man to walk into a health facility and get specific medication or health care related to his sexuality is really important.
“At the same time, we need to invest in education to ensure that safe schools can function in these areas so that no one is bullied.”
In 2018, Fernando co-founded Koorie Pride Victoria, which advocates for gender diversity and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
He says Indigenous Australians can sometimes feel the need to “downplay their indigeneity” in predominantly white LGBTIQ + spaces, to connect with their queerness.
Meanwhile, in heterosexual indigenous spaces, they “minimize their queerness to elevate their darkness.”
“When homosexual aborigines come together in a room designed with them, from them and by them, it is an incredible space,” said Fernando.
“We don’t have to belittle part of our identity because we are in a safe and welcoming room for us.
“If we can translate this experience into services – we are going to see incredible results that fight discrimination and increase the chances of success. It just seems obvious to me.”
He says COVID lockdowns have exacerbated the mental health issues faced by many members of the LGBTIQ + community.
“There’s a lot of work to do once we reopen and it’s about reconnecting with people and really understanding what the experience on the other side of COVID is like. “
As the global pandemic continues, Fernando worries about young people locked in homes with families who may not be supporting them.
“They have to minimize their homosexuality to create a safe space for themselves – we have to make it obsolete, we have to get rid of it – and part of that comes with education,” he said.
Associated Australian Press