Every November, the U.S. honors Native Americans whose culture and traditions have indelibly shaped the land we know today, despite centuries of systematic displacement, marginalization and sustained genocide at the hands of European settlers and European-Americans.
As communities across the U.S. gather to honor Native American Heritage Month, we must center the lives and stories of LGBTQ and two-spirit Native American people. Too often LGBTQ Native American youth report heartbreaking levels of stress, anxiety and rejection in their homes and communities.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey:
- 15% of Native American LGBTQ youth did not go to school because they felt unsafe at school or felt unsafe on their way to or from school;
- One-half of Native American LGBTQ youth reported feeling sad or hopeless;
- More than one-third of Native LGBTQ youth were bullied on school property;
- And more than one-quarter of these young people reported being electronically bullied.
It is up to each of us to educate ourselves and open the doors for LGBTQ and two-spirit Native American young people to be able to embrace their true and authentic selves.
“We as two-spirit people don’t have representation, our role models are not always given the same platform,” said two-spirit dancers Adrian Stevens and Sean Snyder at HRC’s 2018 Time to THRIVE conference. “If you know any young, Native two-spirit kids, tell them we said, 'Be true. Be proud. And keep dancing.'"
Last year, a record number of openly LGBTQ, women and minority candidates ushered in the most diverse Congress in history -- including HRC-endorsed Reps. Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first-ever Native American U.S. representatives.
“There will be a whole bunch of LGBTQ youth and Native youth who will feel like their experience is validated,” said Davids, in a visit to HRC after the historic House passage of the Equality Act. “That people who are in decision-making positions will see them and know that their experience is important."
Despite these significant milestones, there is still more work to do. It is vital, especially for LGBTQ and two-spirit Native American youth, to see themselves in politics, in the media and in their communities.
As Native Americans reclaim their cultural and religious traditions lost to colonization and westward expansion, it is vital that we continue to elevate the voices and stories of those who are LGBTQ and two-spirit.