- November 21, 2014
November is Native American Heritage Month. HRC Blog is featuring a 3-part series elevating the histories of two-spirit and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Native Americans. This is the second in the series. The first can be found here.
Clyde Hall is a two-spirit Shoshone-Metis elder and activist from Idaho and was listed in 2000 by Out Magazine as one of the most 100 influential people of the century.
Spirit Wildcat is an enrolled tribal member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, a drag performer, and the first Miss Montana two-spirit 2014 from the Montana Two-Spirit Society.
Many thanks to Janna Strain, HRC Religion & Faith Program Intern, for conducting this interview.
In 1956, the United States government passed the Indian Relocation Act to encourage Native Americans to move off of reservations and into major cities, an opportunity that many like Clyde Hall took advantage of in the following decade. For Clyde, who grew up as a two-spirit person on his reservation, the choice to accept educational opportunities in San Francisco changed his life. Clyde first met other two-spirit people while attending school in the Bay Area, and helped form Gay American Indians (GAI) Organization in the United States and the world.
Fast forward to today: Spirit Wildcat, a locally known drag performer, will be attending the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits (BAAITS) Annual Two Spirit Powwow. And will be a performer during the Gay American Indians Celebration in the same place Clyde once laid the groundwork for two-spirit acceptance on a national scale. Clyde, who returned to the reservation around the time that Spirit was born, became one of Spirit’s closest supporters as she grew up, serving not just as a two-spirit mentor, but also sponsoring her for pageants as she pursues her drag career.
“When I came back to the reservation,” Clyde says, “I made the decision that I was not to be closeted in any way.” Growing up, there were no two-spirit elders to support Clyde on his journey; now he is one of many two-spirit elders living on the reservation, where more youth are comfortable coming out because of the advocacy Clyde and his peers did in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
The layers in this movement’s development can be seen in the difference between Spirit’s advocacy work and Clyde’s. Clyde and his peers faced the daunting task of reviving a cultural tradition that many tribes had suppressed since the colonial era, a challenge they met with political engagement and awareness campaigns. Clyde remembers marching on Washington and being present when the term two-spirit was coined. “There wasn’t consciousness about being two-spirit,” Clyde says about the earliest days. “From the efforts that we did originally, there are two-spirit societies all over the United States and up in Canada.”
Spirit’s work, by contrast, is less directly political and more focused on visibility and interpersonal work. “I see myself as a role model,” she says. “When I’m approached by Two Spirit youth or any LGBT youth, I try to give them comfort and let them know there are more of them out there.” It is a role she takes seriously, knowing that many do not have elder Two Spirit people for support and guidance. “One of the things I like about Spirit is that he’s [sic] really out there,” says Clyde, “An organizer, leader, and a shaker.” Spirit draws people from across borders to her shows, yet even amidst all the success and traveling, she still makes time for phone calls with those she meets along the way to offer advice, encouragement, and help support other burgeoning drag performers.
This coming February, Spirit, her mentor/elder Clyde and many others will travel from all over the country to attend the only public powwow in America organized by and for two-spirit people. People of varying ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, and tribal affiliations will gather in the bay area where today’s elders first found two-spirit solidarity. At the Fourth Annual BAAITS Two Spirit Powwow, people will celebrate and honor the place of two-spirit people in Native American culture with dancing, community, and of course fry bread—an event commemorating the successful revival of two-spirit awareness and promoting further acceptance for generations to come.