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2Spirits is Queensland Healthy Community’s sexual health education program for LGBTIQ indigenous Australians. Based in Cairns and Brisbane, the program also delivers services to remote indigenous communities, adopting a whole-of-community approach.
Why do you think it’s important to have sexual health education programs targeted at indigenous LGBTIQ communities?
Quite often mainstream organisations are seen to be tokenistic in their approach to indigenous sexual health. The main way of making indigenous sexual health education and information appropriate is to make sure it’s delivered by indigenous people. Some of the cultural elements indigenous people bring to sexual health are extremely important. It’s so much more than going to a conference about how to deliver sexual health education to indigenous people, it’s about understanding the lived experience of the culture.
Sexual health is a hard thing to push anyway but especially amongst indigenous people. When we look at indigenous health as a whole, there’s a huge range of needs and sexual health is competing against so many issues. It’s hard to rank these issues and we shouldn’t have to. We work with a person as a whole; you can’t separate someone’s sexual health out from their mental health or their overall health.
How do you develop and adjust your program for different audiences?
Before we do any sexual health education in remote communities we first go and speak to the elders. Speak and listen to the elders. We find out from them what sorts of issues they’re seeing in their communities and incorporate that into our messaging.
We don’t go into communities with any sets of assumptions. We assess levels of literacy and don’t rely just on brochures. We’ve also created a new set of brochures written in Creole because English isn’t always the preferred language. We just try to make it as culturally accessible and approachable for everyone.
2Spirits is well known for being behind the Condoman and Lubelicious safe sex comic book series. Where did the idea for this come from?
Back in ’87 a group of aboriginal health workers in Townsville came up with Condeman. This was the same year that the famous Grim Reaper ad was released. The health workers recognised that the Grim Reaper message wasn’t appropriate for indigenous communities and the imagery wasn’t engaging. So they came up with Condoman. Condoman’s clothing featured the aboriginal flag colours and the concept came with a really strong message – “don’t be shame, be game.” It took away the fear and shame associated with HIV and STIs.
We rebranded Condoman and Lubelicious this year and relaunched the comic featuring a whole new range of STI characters. Lubelicious features the colours of the Torres Strait Island (TSI) flag. It’s really important that we’ve incorporated a female character as well as making sure it’s clear this is a campaign for TSI people as well. (Read Condoman here.)
How has the comic been received the second time around and how do you distribute it?
Condoman has had an uptake from a huge range of different audiences and a wide range of different age groups. We initially thought it would be quite popular with young people but we’ve been really pleased with the feedback from people into their 40s and 50s who are saying they’re finding it really engaging and appropriate to them.
We distribute it through Facebook and you can read it online. We’ve got Condoman and Lubelicious suits that people can dress up in to attend events! We’ve also developed radio skits that are read by Condoman and Lubelicious.
What has the 2Spirits team got planned for NAIDOC Week?
Our biggest event for NAIDOC Week will be the get together at Musgrave Park. Lubelicious and Condoman will be there wandering around and engaging with people to discuss sexual health. We’ll be handing out resources and the Condoman comic.
Every single year at NAIDOC events we’re run off our feet. People really relate to the way we do health promotion. Everything involves colour and culture. Even the medium we use- we don’t just use posters and flyers. It’s about so much more than that. NAIDOC Week is a culturally significant time for indigenous people. It’s a time for the community to come together and reflect, both collectively and individually. It’s an enormous crowd!
What have you learnt about sexual health education delivery through your time at 2Spirits?
I think we’ve been conditioned to think that brochures are the best way for health promotion. 2Spirits learns from the communities we go into; we’ve tried to capture cultural elements of dance, theatre and group discussion. When you go into remote indigenous communities you don’t often see a lot of brochures.
If people could take away one message about indigenous sexual health issue this NAIDOC Week, what would you want it to be?
Chlamydia, Syphilis and Gonnorrhea more prevalent amongst indigenous people- It’s hard to pin down exactly why that’s the case. I think the most important thing to focus on is increasing testing and awareness raising. What’s worrying is that the presence of STIs increases the risk of transmission of HIV. We predict around 20% of people living with HIV in Queensland don’t even realise they have it, so testing is incredibly important.
The reality is that STIs can affect everyone and the misconception is that they only affect certain kinds of people. What we need to do is talk about STIs and how they’re transmitted rather than focussing on the people. This only perpetuates stigma and if stigma keeps happening people will be less willing to go and get tested.