Growing up in a “fundamentalist Christian household”, the now 43-year-old Indigenous woman didn’t come out till she was 21, after having a baby at age 19 and then separating from her husband who she wed when she was 18 years old.
“There’s a lot of religion and faith within Aboriginal people and in particular my family,” Narelda told HuffPost Australia. “My dad was a reverend of the Uniting Church and he’s also a Whadjuk Nyoongar man.
“I guess a difficult thing a lot of Aboriginal people face when they come out is religion. That’s what makes it hard. It wasn’t so much the cultural aspect of being Aboriginal or coming out, it was more the religious element. That’s what for me was the hardest part.”
In 1998 Narelda attended her first Mardi Gras. She had only recently come out to her family after mustering up the courage thanks to her friends. The journalist said she had “buried” her sexuality “so deeply in the closet” up until that point.
“Imagine growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household and you were told that being homosexual was a sin and gays were going to hell and that AIDS had been brought as a punishment from god,” she explained. “We grew up thinking those things and as Christians we need to work to save the sinners.
“You live in fear. That’s what happened to me. I lived in fear, I buried my sexuality so deeply into the closet but it was something that you can’t hide forever.”
Narelda said it wasn’t till she started a new job that she became open to embracing her sexuality.
“I realised through some really close friends that I’m not going to hell because I’m a lesbian, because I’m attracted to women,” she revealed.
“It’s a really difficult thing to overcome when you’re brought up believing that because it’s not just something that you’re told, it’s a belief. That’s what I faced when I came out. I’m glad I had those realisations and I’m glad I had those friends that helped me because they helped me see the light.”
The TV presenter realises not everyone has the network to support them when coming out.
“I just really feel for people who are doing it on their own and living in the shadows on their own,” she said.
Her advice to those people is to remember “there’s always help”.
“Every city in Australia, even regional places, online networks even, there’s always places you can turn to for help because you shouldn’t do it alone,” she said.
“It’s just so hard to face a family who are homophobic or who think you’re less than if you’re homosexual or transgender or if you’re any one of the LGBTIQA+. There’s always someone to talk to. You can’t do it on your own.”
This year’s theme at Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is ‘What Matters’, and what matters to Narelda is “each other and each other’s hearts”.
“A lot of our hearts are continuously being broken because of this Religious Discrimination Bill. It’s hurting our hearts,” she admitted.
“We think back to just over two years ago when our hearts were soaring because of the marriage equality vote, and now they’re wanting to wind back the clock by bringing in this Religious Discrimination Bill. It’s just so upsetting and it’s actually heartbreaking.
“So I think what matters is to be mindful of the things we still need to fight for as we come together in love.”
Narelda will be co-hosting SBS’ first live broadcast of the 2020 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on Saturday alongside Joel Creasey, Courtney Act and Zoë Coombs Marr.
All of HuffPost Australia’s 2020 Mardi Gras coverage can be found here.