Taz Clay: Fighting the good fight
By: Belinda Quinn
Taz Clay, a 22-year-old Kalkadoon and Bwgcolman brotherboy, has made waves by using his lived experience of homelessness and queerness to advocate for better living conditions of those navigating LGBT+ healthcare, out-of-home care and alcohol and other drugs support over the last five years.
An unrelenting activist for sistergirl and brotherboy suicide prevention and child protection, Clay has informed key stakeholders on how various systems of care could be improved. He spoke to Belinda Quinn about queer Indigenous health, how his upbringing informed his activism, and taking care of yourself so you can keep serving your community.
Content warning: This article discusses the human rights violations experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at the hands of consecutive governments, the police and, more broadly, the racist systems within our society.
Image: Luc Yong
I’ve had a really diverse and interesting life growing up. I spent time being homeless on the streets and in youth shelters, navigating systems by myself, eventually ending up in an awesome foster home with a family that did everything they could for me. I ended up in places that kids really shouldn’t be in at the age of 14. Then I was lucky enough to get a job at headspace several months out from my 18th birthday. I learnt a lot and met a lot of important people; I had amazing opportunities to listen. That’s basically what kickstarted my career.
My family has a strong political background. Back on Palm Island, my granddad started a Labor Party branch. Being born black in this country means that even when you’re in the womb your life is already being impacted by racism – you have to fight for your life before you even breathe.
The world and the systems within it are starting to recognise lived experience as something that needs to be heard when making decisions. That’s beginning to gain a lot more weight than someone who’s studied a minority’s experience because, at the end of the day, first-hand wisdom is a lot more powerful. You can’t change anything if you don’t understand the circumstances of the people. With that, I became an activist and a voice for a lot of groups of people.
I’m influenced by the never-ending stream of people I meet through the work I do and by the people I meet and work with. I am forever thankful for the people that gave me opportunities to talk and be heard, leading me to have the influence I do. It’s always been about trying to increase the health outcomes of queer blackfellas – it’s really tough sometimes.
The reason I take such a strong stance on my work is that when I was a kid coming out, it was a really bad time. I got kicked out. So I started going about my own business – I was only 14 years old.
When you’re a kid, or when you come out at any age, people can be harsh and rude, and that really changes you. Especially when that harshness comes from family – or the people that you thought were your family. You shouldn’t be at all demonised for sharing your love with someone else. That’s where it all started really.
I’m able to look at my life and make it really reflective to try and better the experiences of other kids.
Several years ago I travelled with the Queensland Government and CREATE Foundation, an advocacy organisation that represents the voices of children and young people in out-of-home care. This work informed a framework for the next 10 years in Queensland for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in or with a care experience – that was a pretty big one.
These kids’ stories were heart breaking. Some of them had really traumatic stories. I found that people wanted to know more about what I do and wanted me to be involved because I’ve learnt a lot and I’ve seen a lot.
People are like, ‘Oh, you must get paid well.’ I get paid enough to cover my bills. I’m not going out there to try and get rich. Most of the time, I just do what needs to be done, and I don’t get paid for it.
It gets a bit hard when it’s not just a nine-to-five job where you get to clock off. I found when I was doing a lot of work, there were a lot of people that would come up to me to talk about my lived experience. That doesn’t stop, and I don’t get compensated for any of that.
We don’t have the luxury of just being able to switch off and take off the colour of our skin or what we’re wearing or how we present and act. People talking about their lived experience deserve reimbursement.
Foremost, the person sharing their experience for your training or education has had all kinds of emotions and feelings, situations and journeys, and is now standing in front of you talking. I don’t want to do this for free – it’s hard work.
I had a little bit of a break recently. I’ve been doing this work since before I left school, and I was dealing with a lot before that as well. After just working for years and years and years, I realised there is life outside of work. But some people are just called to the life of an activist.
As blackfellas, we’re always going to have to be speaking out. It is full on, but nothing changes without someone doing something. Take Stonewall. We wouldn’t have the moments in life that we have at the moment if Marsha P Johnson didn’t throw a brick to cops. A little bit of civil disruption never hurt anyone. It’s always been the turning point of civil rights.
We’re also not asking for a lot. I would like to die maybe 10 years later than current life expectancies suggest for Indigenous peoples in Australia. Like, that’d be cool. I feel as blackfellas we’ve cracked the code to life: we’ve got a bit of an unrestricted fight in us. We go hard or go home. I feel personally it gives me more reason to do things, as time seems a lot shorter than it might be.
We are also the oldest culture on the planet – that’s pretty cool. The Australian Government tried to plan a future without me or my family back in the day. There was chemical castration and whole tribes, mine included, were massacred. That’s what makes me fight every day. That’s why I’ll never be able to sit comfortably in this country or its systems.
The Queensland Police Service, as of 2019, still had blackfellas occasionally written up in their Operational Procedures Manual as ‘aborigines’ (an insensitive term that conflates people with plants and animals). These guys are the ones that enforce the law, yet they still think that we’re monkeys and trees.
Whether they believe that or not personally, it’s what the whole foundation of your organisation sits on. Like, that’s pathetic. You look at that, and then you look at their further treatment of blackfellas and other minorities – no wonder people say ACAB (all cops are bastards).
You guys are supposed to be the be-all and end-all protectors of our community, but you’re literally violating the rights of the most vulnerable people in your community. Does everyone forget that this country, including its police services, was founded on the mass murders of Aboriginal people, and populated by boatloads of convicted criminals? The idea that a society can stop being racist and homophobic and plain hateful shouldn’t be so extreme.
It’s shocking to see how much race plays into stuff. You can’t even protest for decent humane treatment without excessive force. It’s important for white people to be an ally at protests.
When Invasion Day comes around you could always just be like, ‘Hey, there’s a march going on here, I can take you.’ You know, facilitate them to feel like their pain as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person on that day is justified and acknowledge that the system they live in is constructed to break them. It’s important for them to feel validated and if that means standing in the sun all day at a march, then so be it. At the end of the day, you’re supposed to be supporting them.
You can’t get actual outcomes if you’re not going to put the hard yards in.
I consulted with the Federal Government on their Head to Health website, and they just completely disregarded anything that I was saying. I was like, ‘You are aware I’m the only Aboriginal person in this room. You’ve flown people in from across the whole country, and I’m the only black person, Aboriginal person in this room and you guys are just diminishing anything that I say.’
I told them they needed to have a specific Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander Queer Health page. And then they were like, ‘Yeah, okay,’ and they just threw it in under the page for 18-to-25-year-olds. I told them, ‘It’s a needs-specific health page. There’s a lot of information, and it needs to be easy access.’ They just did not care, and it went completely over their heads.
At the end of the day, that little decision there, the flow-on effect of that could actually really harm someone. Until there is an upheaval of ethics involving their conscious, I don’t know if much is going to change.
When I look at the forced removals, the stolen generations, and how that impacted the community, our elders are the ones at the moment that are trying to process their own trauma. They haven’t even been given the necessary support to rebuild themselves.
Everyone has completely forgotten the whole real idea of the stolen generations: the fact that blackfellas are not supposed to be in this country. There’s not supposed to be any trace of dark-skinned people in this country, and yet we’re still here.
Nothing is going to be geared towards helping us to survive with that as the foundation of this country. If the government can’t understand and own this history, how are they supposed to help us with anything?
And child protection, they said sorry for the Stolen Generations, but in the 10 years since the apology, the rate at which Indigenous children were removed from their families increased by 80%. It’s just legalised stolen gen.
The NSW law about adoption without parental consent, it’s just insane, I don’t even have words for it. It’s a disgusting piece of legislation. I looked it up on the parliament website and read the changes and the amendments to the bill. I just sat there reading it for several hours – and it’s only like five sentences, a paragraph – and I couldn’t believe what they had put in that. That was passed as law.
I see the young blackfellas, the young queer blackfellas, the young queer people coming through and they’re fierce and bold.
I’ve strived to try and create legislation that allows people to be whoever they want to be, so they can freely express themselves without feeling like they’re going to be hurt.
As often as it seems that we take steps forward, we take another step back, too. It’s always going to be a never-ending flow of fight for rights, up until the point that we start getting these young people into our governments.
It’s changing. It’s just a very slow change.
I think being young, black and queer growing up, you gotta look after yourself. And when you find your mob, you’ve gotta look after them too, because you’re a minority of a minority. You guys are your own little family whether youse like it or not.
It’s another world outside of the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. There shouldn’t be that feeling of segregation, but us queer blackfellas go out of our way to look after other queer blackfellas. We’ve just got to help ourselves.
Be aware of your boundaries and the lengths you’re willing to go to get stuff done. Because I’m telling you right now, sitting in meetings with people you don’t like, who make you physically sick, that’s not going to be good for anyone. I think that’s my biggest lesson in life. You can do whatever really, but just make sure you’re doing it in the name of helping other people.
Fight the good fight, but also be acutely aware that a lot of fighting does make you tired. As long as you’ve got your little crew and you’re supported, I really wouldn’t be worrying about much. Life is life at the end of the day, you’ve just gotta look after each other in a more conscious state and take action.
Belinda Quinn is a writer who lives on the land of Yuin and Dharawal language groups. Their writing has covered everything from oppressive dating app algorithms to queer environmental theatre performances. You can read more of Bel’s work at belindaquinn.com.
This article first appeared in Archer Magazine #14, the GROWING UP issue.