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Gay and Indigenous //
Written by Christopher KellyNovember 2004
Corey's Message. Gay and indigenous - it's a double-barrel shot of discrimination in modern Australian life. But, as Corey Czok proves, obstacles are meant to be overcome.
To be honest, I had given up on Corey Czok Having finally arranged to meet up for this interview after weeks of playing telephone tag, I was stood up. Arriving home, I found an apologetic message on the machine. It was Corey explaining that he'd had an accident at basketball. He was sorry to have missed me but had hobbled to our meeting place as fast as his busted ankle had allowed.
The mental image of the poor guy limping along the street in a mad panic so as not to be late tugged at the heart strings. I returned his call to rearrange to meet. It would have to be soon though, deadlines considered. And Corey was off on his first trip overseas (London, then Amsterdam) in just a few days. We met up at his place the night before the morning of his flight. Corey was understandably excited. He hadn't packed yet, but showed me his especially polished shoes. In the flesh, he is a strapping lad. At 185cm (six-foot-one) you can see why he'd be handy to have on a basketball court. He's been shooting hoops since primary school and has signed up to compete in the Sydney Gay Games. It was basketball, he says, that saved him from being bashed. "I had big friends." Corey is of the Mununjhali people, from north-west of the Gold Coast. Growing up, being indigenous made him a target. "I'd often be called names for being black." But unbeknown to the other kids, there was another reason for them to bash the crap out of him. Corey is gay. None of the kids guessed because he doesn't fit the stereotype. "I wasn't what they thought was a typical gay kid," he says. "I was the rough boy with torn clothes and busted knees. I was active and sporty - the last boy inschool they imagined was gay." Besides, as far as the idiots were concerned, it was Corey's younger straight brother, Dustin, who was the poof. A pretty boy with a squeaky voice, Dustin was regularly given a hard time by the other boys. "I was very lucky. My brother deflected attention away from me," says Corey.
Corey had had his fair share of abuse in primary school. "I preferred to hang with the girls. They were nicer and more accepting," he says. "That gave the boys a reason to dislike me. They would make fun of me, calling me faggot and poofter." Born in Brisbane, Corey attended the first indigenous-specific kindy in that city. Later, he was the first aboriginal kid at his pre-primary school. (His younger brother Dustin was the second.) He was considered such a novelty that the local paper ran a story on him. But he knew, from an early age, that there were other things that made him different. His parents separated when he was 10 and his father resettled in Gladstone, At the age of 13, Corey moved in with his dad. It was also around this time that he started sussing out his sexuality. He had a mate he messed about with in the bush - schoolboy stuff mostly. "It just spontaneously happened," he says. "It was hard to make sense of at the time." Back at school, he was playing it straight. "I put on a front, trying to be extra hard and that." The homophobic comments continually hurled around in his world made Corey hide, and hate, who he was. Full of self-loathing, he lashed out. "I acted extremely Homophobic to others who were thought to be gay, including my brother."
Sex education, he remembers, was a joke and support for gay kids nonexistent. "If there had been someone to talk to, I would definitely have been able to deal with my own feelings better," he says. Wanting to fit in, Corey gave it a go with girls. "I tried to show a genuine interest in them, although I knew deep down they were not for me," he says. "It just seemed so impossible for me to be gay in what, from where I was standing, was such a homophobic world."
Copping discrimination on two fronts, Corey was living a "pretty crappy lifestyle". For 18 months, between the ages of 15 and 17, he suffered depression & occasionally contemplated suicide. "But I believe that someone else brings us into this world, so you have no right to take yourself out. That belief saved my life." By now, Corey was living back with his mum on the Sunshine Coast. One day,he thought, Fuck it. Enough." I was sick of being in denial and trying to fight my sexuality. If my friends and family were unable to accept me for who I was, it was their problem." He told Dustin first. Figuring, after all the grief he had suffered himself, he should at least be sympathetic. "He was, 'yeah, whatever'. He didn't care. I was still his brother."
A couple of days later, Corey fessed up to his mum. She was so surprised she laughed. Even she thought Dustin would be the gay one. "She was absolutely fine about it and told me she still loved me," says Corey. Next up was dad. This, thought Corey, would be the real challenge. "He brought us up strict. I honestly thought he'd want nothing more to do with me." Unable to tell his dad himself, Corey asked his stepsister to break the news. As it turned out, his father was unfazed. "He was completely cool with it. He said, 'I don't care if you are gay, as long as you are happy'." Corey later learned that his father's first wife left him for a woman, and that his father has many gay friends. He also discovered that his great uncle Dougie, an indigenous elder, is also gay. "For the first time in ages I was feeling good. I was accepted for being me. I was still loved." The rest was easy. He only had to tell 'the family PA system", Auntie Sandra, and soon enough everyone would hear.
Six or so months later, having just turned 18, Corey met his current partner of six years, Michael. They met at a gay night in a hotel. As Corey walked in, Michael was about to leave, intending to move to Melbourne the next day. "It was love at first sight," says Corey, his eyes going gooey. "I was so stoked, I'd never felt a buzz like it, ever." Not long after, Michael was offered a job at the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations and the pair moved to Sydney. Encouraged by Michael, Corey studied for a diploma in Aboriginal Health And Community Development at Sydney University. The diploma grew into a degree. Corey has specialised in the area of indigenous health ever since. Now 23, he's currently working at the AIDS Council Of New South Wales helping to organise the Health In Difference conference taking place in Sydney in November.
Along his bloodline, Cory is directly related to Neville Bonner, the first Aboriginal person to hold a seat in federal parliament. Like his ancestor, Cory would like to work towards changing Australia for the better. "I have definite ideas about how I think the world should be. They keep me passionate about life." For starters, Corey would like to see a radical shift in sex education. "Schools need to get real about sex. There needs to be more acknowledgment in sex education regarding homophobia, safe sex and sexuality," he says. "And if it's aimed at indigenous kids, it needs to be culturally specific."
On the subject of reconciliation and John Howard's obstinate refusal to say sorry: "It's another brick in the wall. We'll get nowhere with the current government. It builds brick walls galore." Corey's not too impressed with the media either. "The majority of the time, indigenous culture is overlooked by mainstream media." And the gay press? "It's frustrating. All you ever see are white bodies and white faces. It's fucked," he says. "I'd like to think that just by featuring an indigenous gay man, DNA could make a difference to someone." And that's partly why he agreed to do this interviewed. It's an opportunity to send a message of support to any young, indigenous, gay guys who may be reading this - guys who may be in a similar place to where he once was. "If I have a message, it's this: don't give up. Be strong. Don't think that life is all bad. Don't think there aren't people out there who understand you. There are people who do," he says. "And don't be afraid to be who you are." The interview over, I say my goodbyes. Corey has bags to pack. Busted ankle or not, the man is on a journey.