How Sydney WorldPride 2023 is celebrating Indigenous leadership

sydney worldpride champion jojo zaho
Image: Supplied

In 2023, Sydney WorldPride will be celebrating 45 influential figures from across Australia’s diverse LGBTQIA+ extended family.

These 45 Rainbow Champions will represent the 45 years since the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which took place on 24 June 1978.

Each of the Rainbow Champions have been chosen for their contributions to Australian LGBTQIA+ community and culture.

The star-stacked selection of Champions particularly focuses the role of our many incredible queer Indigenous leaders.

As such, QNews is here to spotlight these trailblazers and their historical contributions to our communities.

Crystal Love (she/her)

Crystal Love is Australian and Northern Territory royalty. Living between Darwin and the Tiwi Islands, she’s the queen of the Island, respected for being the loving and caring person she is.

Comedy and sass are what she does best! She has represented her community at the United Nations plus many festivals and events around Australia and the world.

She is the star of the award winning documentary Black Divaz and can be found performing around Darwin and the world!

Narelda Jacobs (she/her)

Narelda Jacobs is a Whadjuk Noongar journalist and presenter hailing from Boorloo/Perth now living on Gadigal Country in Sydney.

She’s shared the stage with Prime Ministers, international leaders, humanitarian advocates and superstar artists.

She’s passionate about promoting equality, diversity and inclusion and is on the board of Walkley Foundation.

Steven Oliver (he/him)

Steven Oliver is a descendant of the Kuku-Yalanji, Waanyi, Gangalidda, Woppaburra, Bundjalung and Biripi peoples and is one of Australia’s most beloved performers.

Oliver has also worked with numerous theatre companies, festivals and arts organisations across Australia but became notorious with ABC’s Logie/AACTA nominated sketch comedy show Black Comedy as a writer/actor/associate producer.

He was a recipient of Screen Australia’s Blackspace Initiative for his premiere web series A Chance Affair, that went on to be nominated for best web series at both the 2018 LGBTIQ Australian Awards and Screen Producers Australia Awards.

His poetry and comedic work collectively have garnered several million views online.

Deborah Cheetham (she/her)

“21st century urban woman who is Yorta Yorta by birth, stolen generation by policy, soprano by diligence, composer by necessity and lesbian by practice,” as Deborah describes herself.

Deborah has been a leader and pioneer in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years.

She has been named the 2020 Composer-in-residence for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and begins her appointment at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University as Professor of Australia Music practice.

Deborah is also the 2019 winner of the prestigious Melbourne Prize for Music and was named Limelight Magazine’s Artist of the Year for 2019.

Jessica Johnson (she/her)

Warramungu Wombaya artist, graphic designer and advocate. Owner of design agency, Nungala Creative, which created Sydney WorldPride’s iconic branding.

Nungala is an expression of lived experience and commitment to a better future for First Nations people centred around LGBTQ+ visibility, representation and wellbeing.

“Creation of the new logo and artworks for Sydney WorldPride was inspired by my belonging to a big, multigenerational queer First Nations community and our extended family.

“We embody intersectionality and I wanted the design to express that through the vibrancy, colours and textures,” she says.

Hear about Jess’ story here.

Casey Donovan (she/her)

A proud Gumbaynggir and Dungari woman, over the last eighteen years, Donovan has made her mark not only as a musician, but also in the areas of stage, screen, presenting and writing.

Casey is a multi-Award winner & nominee, including an ARIA No #1 Award and Triple Platinum for ‘Listen With Your Heart’ from the Double Platinum Album ‘For You’.

She is also a Deadly Awards for Best Album, Best Single and Most Promising New Talent.

Over the span of her illustrious career, Casey has appeared on many television programs and has presented her own indigenous music themed show Fusion on SBS/NITV during 2012 and 2013.

WorldPride Bridge Art
Sydney WorldPride artwork directed by Nungala Creative, Jessica Johnson

Mo’Ju (they/she)

Mo’Ju has been called “one of Australia’s most exciting singer/ songwriters” and their music has amassed critical, commercial and cultural influence.

2018’s release “Native Tongue” was one of the year’s most important and award-winning releases, impacting not only Mo’Ju’s life and music but also the Australian musical landscape.

With the album being career definer for the sing/songwriter, Mo’Ju had documented a deep and intimate exploration of family and identity, in particular her Wiradjuri and Filipino roots.

They have spoken to media giants including SBS The Feed, VICE, Q&A and The Guardian, and even delved into writings sessions at the famed Songhubs in Brooklyn.

Daniel McDonald (he/him)

Daniel McDonald is a Gadigal and Wonnarua man who represents Aboriginal art through ‘Deadly Hand Talk.’ He is also dedicated to amplifying the voices of people living with disabilities in the arts and culture sectors.

He is an LGBTQIA+ Indigenous man living with a disability (Deafness), a member of Sydney Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and a member of the Inclusion Disability Advisory Panel at Sydney City Council.

Daniel is now working as an artist having culturally learnt a style of Aboriginal dot painting from his grandmother and his Aunty Mum Shirl.

Daniel plans to continue delivering his Deadly Hand Talk Exhibition each year, showcasing his evolving style of works, and to continue his contribution to the Arts and Cultural sector as a queer person with a disability.

Learn more about Daniel’s incredible story here.

Jojo Zaho (she/her)

After winning Miss first Nations 2017, Jojo Zaho was a contestant on the very first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under.

In 2015 Jojo started her drag career in the New South Wales country town of Dubbo as a political response to a council member stating that homosexuality is not part of the indigenous culture.

So for Dubbo’s first annual Central West Pride March she walked the parade in a costumes she made with both the indigenous & gay pride flag and she hasn’t looked back since.

She also starred in the documentary Black Divaz alongside Crystal Love, which follows the competition that launched her drag career.

Check out Jojo here.

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