Meet Qld First Nations LGBTQIA+ advocate Rocky Byrne

First Nations LGBTQIA+ advocate Rocky Byrne wearing back with a First Nations queen in drag on a silver background.
Image supplied by Rocky Byrne (left)

Rocky Byrne is the Executive Officer of 2Spirits, a Queensland Council for LGBTI Health (QC) program helping LGBTQI+ Sistergirl and Brotherboy people across the state. She chatted to QNews about her advocacy work and how the queer community can be better allies. 

Rochelle “Rocky” Byrne grew up on Bundjalung country around Lismore, New South Wales.    

Being called Rocky came from her father from a young age.    

“My dad, one of his closest friends but also his cousin, passed just before I was born, and his name was Rocky. So when I was born, my dad just called me Rocky,” she tells me.    

Her move to Queensland almost 30 years ago led to community work throughout that time.   

Advocacy journey

Rocky’s journey to her work first came from discovering her authentic self.    

“My journey to identity was maybe a little bit longer than most. I had a relationship with a man and I had four amazing children out of that relationship. I was in my late twenties when I really started to allow myself to explore who I actually was,” she says.   

“That came about when I lost my dad, and just needed to really have a good look at myself and who I was. Losing a parent really gave me the ability to sort of look at that, honestly.”   

Once she embraced who she was, she found love and built a large family.    

“I have been with my wife for 15 years and together we have seven adult children and one grandchild,” she says proudly.    

When I ask her about where her advocacy work began, she states clearly that it started before she secured any job title.    

“I have a really strong belief that for a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, you’re raised in social justice. So advocating is very much a part of who you are as even as a child growing up,” she says.

Through her found family she saw the different ways that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ+ Sistergirl and Brotherboy people were being discriminated against, on top of racism.  

Beginning work for LGBTIQA+ youth organisation Open Doors gave her even more of an understanding.  

“That really gave me great insight into the amazing young people that we have as part of our community and the difficulties they were facing. The young people in particular also showed me how to celebrate all the beauty of our two worlds. Despite having some issues and barriers and challenges, they showed me how to celebrate uniqueness.” 

Work of 2Spirits    

Rocky now heads up the 2Spirits program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex, Queer, Sistergirl or Brotherboy. 

The program is under the umbrella of QC and began primarily in sexual health 28 years ago. However, since then it has evolved.   

“We’ve grown and changed with our communities, so now we use that community strength approach and provide holistic health support,” Rocky says.   

“We try and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Queensland. It can be a referral pathway from partner organisations, Queensland Health or our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health organisations or absolutely a self-referral. And we do social events because we know that social connection for people is really, really important,” she says.

A new suicide prevention program called Yarns Heal is funded by the Queensland Mental Health Commission and is part of Rocky’s work.   

However, she always has one eye on the future and the reality of already stretched budgets.    

“Part of that project is the ongoing sustainability planning. Because we know that whilst these projects are so important and so needed in our communities, so is the ongoing work and trying to find funding to continue that work is really important.” 

Challenges and triumphs   

The work of 2Spirits has many challenges. Queensland is a large state to cover and the further from Brisbane you are, the bigger the issues become.    

“I think the number one challenge is the racism and discrimination that happens. The further you go rural and remote, the more obvious it is,” she says.   

“Getting access to gender-affirming healthcare is difficult, and more so in our rural and remote communities. But even things like getting access to PEP is a real challenge. Access to screening, access to mental health, or any of those types of things is a huge challenge.”  

“Those services either don’t exist and if they do exist, people may have to travel a long distance to access them. And then the question is, are those services culturally secure? And then if they are, are they culturally secure in queer culture?” 

 Despite these challenges, there is also much to celebrate.    

“I think the triumph is a collection of very human shared strengths. People thrive and survive, despite those challenges, they are finding their authentic selves and uniquely celebrating that. Being a part of that journey with somebody is, it’s an honour and a privilege.” 

Being allies   

Rocky shares that the queer community reflects the broader Australian community. There are amazing allies through to people who display outward racism.   

She shares how those in our communities can be a better ally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander queer people.    

“When people are coming together, whether it’s to organise an event or show, anything that is bringing people together, just having a look at who’s at the table, and who’s not at the table,” she says.    

“I think if you can recognise, ‘hey, you know, we don’t have certain people part of this conversation, and they should be here’, then I would say, that’s a really great place to start.”   

On the flip side, Rocky also wants to see more queer visibility at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander events.    

“There’s very little representation of LGBTIQ+ Sistergirl and Brotherboy peoples in our broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We don’t have anything that’s a part of NAIDOC Week that celebrates that diversity and even in just in our community type events.”  

“You can’t be what you can’t see. There’s no Deadly Choices campaign on being queer. If you go into different medical settings very rarely do you see a rainbow flag. Visibility is hugely lacking.” 

Her message to the community 

Rocky has a strong message for LGBTIQA+ Sistergirl and Brotherboy young people.   

“Take your time. It’s okay to take your time, you do not have to use a label, you do not have to fit a label, you just have to be you. And to take your time to sort that out. Because it’s a lifelong journey and how you may see yourself today may not be how you see yourself in 10 years time.” 

 The passion Rocky has for her work is clear and the passion she particularly has for helping young LGBTIQA+ Sistergirl and Brotherboy people is strong.    

Her ambition to make real and substantial change is evident.    

The incredibly important work under her leadership is clearly in safe hands.

Find out more on the 2Spirits program at 

Read more:

A different Pride celebration: NAIDOC Week

LGBTQIA+SB organisations to support this Invasion Day

Get to know First Nations queen Chocolate Boxx

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Dale Roberts

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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