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Queerness and Colonisation

By Tom Fiebig, Monday 4th April 2024 

7 minute read

About the author: I am a neurotypical, white cis-gender male social work student working on completing his Masters of Social Work (Qualifying) degree on Wurrunderji Woi Wurrung Land. I’ve completed my first field placement at My Right 2 Voice, a specialist disability services provider, and I am currently completing my second (and final) placement at TIF. I am grateful to be working alongside and learning from/with disabled and neurodivergent people both professionally and personally. I look forward to a world without ableism, discrimination, and oppression.

Preamble: A note on language

This blogpost uses the acronym LGBTIAQSBP+ and the terms Queer community/Queer folk interchangeably to refer to people with diverse gender identities and expression, sexualities, sexual orientation, and sex characteristics.

LGBTIAQSBP+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans/transgender and Non-binary, Intersex, Asexual, Queer/Questioning, Sistergirl and brotherboy, and Pansexual.  The ‘+’ is to show that there are many other ways to be gender, sexually, or body diverse, including across different cultures.

While ‘Queer’ was once widely considered a slur, it has now been reclaimed by members of the LGBTIAQSBP+ community as both an individual identifier and as an umbrella term for the whole community. When I use the terms Queer folk or Queer community, I use the term in the latter sense.

For more information on terminology, refer to the Victorian government’s inclusive language guide or Kids Helpline’s LGBTIQ+: The Ultimate Dictionary.

Queer folk have always existed.

There is a prevalent myth that LGBTIAQSBP+ people have existed only in modern times.  In reality, LGBTIAQP+ folk have existed around the world since time immemorial (FDPN, 2024).

In 17th Century Iran, a Muslim society ruled by Shah Abbas I, erotic attraction and sexual behaviour between members of the same sex was recognised.  Excavated tombs show that bisexuality was similarly acceptable in ancient Egypt. Hapi, the god of the Nile was depicted in hieroglyphs as an intersex person (FDPN, 2024).

Other examples of Queer folk across the globe include the Two-Spirit peoples of Indigenous tribes in North America, the Takatāpui of the Maori people in Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand), the Muxes of the Indigenous Zepotec people in Mexico, the sekrata of the Indigenous Saklava people in Madagascar, the Fa’afafine people in the pacific islands and the Hijras of India.

You can read about these and other examples of Queer folk around the world in the Forcibly Displaced People’s Network (FDPN)’s ‘Building service capacity to work with LGBTIQ+ forcibly displaced people’ training for professionals.

Queer folk have also been part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities, long before the British colonisation and invasion of so-called* Australia (Lindsay Ross, 2014). There is a rich and nuanced cultural history of LGBTIAQP+ acceptance amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


Blak and Trans folk who are members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities often describe themselves as Sistergirls or Brotherboys (Day et al. 2022 ).

Posters by Charlotte Allingham for Elizabeth Morgan Aboriginal Women's Services in collaboration with Zoe Belle Gender Collective and Thorne Harbour Health. Download here.

*While the phrase ‘so-called Australia’ may feel uncomfortable or strange for non-Indigenous people to read or use, it recognises the truth of living on unceded lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples – lands which prior to colonisation were constituted by hundreds of different Indigenous nations and language groups. Read more here.

Capitalism, colonisation & the violent imposition of nuclear family structures

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s culture and communities have been disrupted by British colonisation and the violent imposition of European Capitalism and its White-supremacist values, norms, and standards.

This wasn’t automatic but required the conscious and forcible introduction of racist policies and practices of genocide, segregation, and forced assimilation (Liddelow-Hunt et al. 2021), against the fierce and ongoing resistance of Indigenous people across the continent.

It is a similar story in many other parts of the world, including India. From the late 1400s until 1947, when India claimed independence, numerous world powers including the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British controlled parts of the country. In the late 18th century, after a power struggle with the French, Britain became India’s final colonial oppressor.

Prior to British colonisation, a range of non-binary and gender-diverse identities, cultures, and experiences were culturally recognised and validated within India (Chakrapani, 2010). The Hijras, people identifying as a third gender, held a special place within Hinduism and Indian structures of culture for millennia and were identified to possess exceptional religious powers (Harvard Divinity School 2018).








Hijra and transgender rights advocate Laxmi Narayan Tripathi;
Photo by Timothy Herbert, Wikimedia Commons:

British colonists imported homophobia to India through the introduction of anti-Hijra laws (Hand, 2022). In 1971, the British colonial administration passed the Criminal Tribes Act making Hijras criminals and arrestable on sight (Harvard Divinity School, 2018; Hand, 2022). European family structures were introduced by the British to control and subjugate the population, resulting in significant stigmatisation, discrimination, and oppression that continues to this day.

Intersectionality: Racism, Colonisation, and Queerphobia

In so-called Australia, ongoing colonisation means that LGBTIAQP+ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience the sharp intersection of racism and queerphobia across many settings and institutions in Australian society, with devastating and lifelong impacts on social, emotional, cultural and spiritual well-being amongst individuals, communities, and across generations (Briskman et al., 2022).

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience deep, collective, unresolved trauma as a result of colonisation and ongoing colonial practices.

Arrente woman Sabella Kngwarraye Turner, describes trauma as “Utnenge Kwarneme Atnyeneme: hurt held in the spirit.” (Cubillo, 2011).

A colonial practice that has had a severe, ongoing impact was the Government’s policy between 1800s to 1969 of forcibly removing Indigenous children from their families, communities, and wider kinship networks, creating cohort of people known as The Stolen Generations.  Almost one in three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are thought to experience trauma as a result of being descendants of the Stolen Generations (Darwin et al., 2023). The transference of such trauma across generations is known as “intergenerational trauma”. (Watch this video to find out more.)

Aboriginal communities and organisations remain structurally underfunded, and, with some notable exceptions, there are very few Aboriginal community-led organisations providing culturally safe, identity-affirming programs and services for First Nations LGBTIAQSBP+ people (Spurway et al., 2023).  Due to racism and queerphobia, many First Nations LGBTIAQSBP+ people report being twice excluded, feeling unsafe in mainstream white LGBTIAQP+ community settings and marginalised within First Nations community (though Indigenous-led initiatives are trying to change this).

In the context of ongoing racism, colonisation, and intergenerational trauma, it is important that programs and services geared towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are led and run by communities themselves, in accordance with the principle of self-determination – which essentially means Aboriginal people having ownership and control over their own destiny.

The following are a small number of Aboriginal community-led organisations, services, and groups for First Nations’ LGBTIAQSB+ folk.

Resources for LGBTIAQP+ First Nations People

Koorie Pride

Located at the Pride Centre, Koorie Pride Victoria aims to help elevate and support LGBTQIASB+ Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples through visibility across Victoria.  kooriepridevictoria

Queer Blak n Deadly

Queer Blak n Deadly is an initiative of Yamurrah dedicated to creating a safe and inclusive space for LGBTQIA+ mob. 🖤🏳️‍🌈 The program involves free monthly online well-being yarning sessions, facilitated for and by Queer mob. Register and find out more via

Walkern Katatdjin (Rainbow Knowledge)

Walkern Katatdjin is a three-phase research project that aims to understand and promote the mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQA+ people.

Beyond centering and celebrating First Nations’ LGBTQA+ community, the website also includes valuable resources for both ‘professionals’ and community members (family, friends etc.) on how to talk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQA+ Young People about Sexuality and Gender.

If you know of any more community-run organisations to add to this list, please contact We would love to help get the word out.

Take-home points

  • Queerness has always existed, including within Indigenous societies. LGBTIAQSBP+ people are a natural part of human society. Queerphobia is a recent invention.

  • Colonisation has disrupted Indigenous systems of knowing, doing, and being and introduced White Western institutions and ideas of the family, class, racism, ableism, and queerphobia.


  • Health is shaped by one’s embeddedness within social systems and discourses of power, knowledge and meaning. Colonisation and oppression have profound negative physical, mental, spiritual, ecological, and psychological impact on LGBTIAQ+ Indigenous people’s health and wellbeing.

  • Indigenous people have never ceded sovereignty, their ongoing physical, cultural, collective, spiritual, and ancestral connections to the land, and continue to exist and resist. Community is a strength and protective factor for mental distress (Thomas, 2024).


  • More community-run LGBTIAQSBP+ organisations are needed to support the wellbeing, existence, and promote the flourishing of LGBTIAQSBP+ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture.

Further Reading

Montiel, A. (2021). LGBTQIA+ Pride and Two-Spirit People. Smithsonian Magazine.

Sansbury, J. (2023). I am not the problem. Archer Magazine, 18-The Incarceration Issue.


Briskman, L., Sullivan, C. T., Spurway, K., Leha, J., Trewlynn, W., & Soldatić, K. (2022). (Re)Claiming Health: The Human Rights of Young LGBTIQ+ Indigenous People in Australia. Health & Human Rights: An International Journal, 24(1), 35–47.

Chakrapani, V. (2010). Hijras/transgender women in India: HIV, human rights and social exclusion. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


Cubillo, C. (2021). Trauma-informed care: Culturally responsive practice working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. InPsych, 43(3).

Darwin L, Vervoort S, Vollert E and Blustein S, 2023. Intergenerational trauma and mental health. Catalogue number IMH 18, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Government.

Day, M., Carlson, B., Bonson, D., & Farrelly, T. (2022). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQIASB+ people and mental health and wellbeing. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Forcibly Displaced People’s Network. (2024). Working Effectively with LGBTIQ+ People in Settlement. Working Effectively with LGBTIQ+ People in Settlement.

Hand, S. (2022, November 11). How the British Attempted to Erase the Hijra [Substack newsletter]. Brown History.

Harvard Divinity School. (2018). The Third Gender and Hijras. Harvard Divinity School.

Liddelow-Hunt S, Uink B, Hill B, Perry Y, Munns S, Talbott T and Lin A (2021) Walkern Katatdjin (Rainbow Knowledge) Phase 1 Community Report, Perth, Western Australia.

Lindsay Ross, S. (2014). Homosexuality and Aboriginal culture: A lore unto themselves. Archer Magazine.

Spurway, K., Sullivan, C., Leha, J., Trewlynn, W., Briskman, L., & Soldatic, K. (2023). “I felt invisible”: First nations LGBTIQSB+ young people’s experiences with health service provision in Australia. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 35(1), 68–91.

Thomas, J. (2024). Cultural wellbeing linked to better health outcomes for First Nations and CALD populations. Intouch Public Health.

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