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LGBT Native Americans

"Two Spirit" is an aboriginal phrase (A direct translation of the Ojibwe term Niizh manidoowag) that refers to both masculine and feminine spirits simultaneously living in the same body. It is a term used by the native, indigenous, or aboriginal lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. 


Within the various native or aboriginal populations (American Indian, Canadian Indian, Alaskan Native, Inuit, First Nations, and others), LGBT individuals often have difficulty overcoming the cultural taboos against homosexual behavior. 



Native people whose gender identify differs are often subject to shaming, a form of social censorship within the tribal community.  Shame is rendered for inappropriate social behavior, particularly any personal expression for flamboyant dress, mannerisms and especially effeminate behavior among males.  Likewise, shame is given any female whose overt masculine behaviors demonstrate her toughness.  In short, tolerance in a contemporary Indian community over the years has evolved to allow no alternatives for a male or female Indian identity.  Doing so would be considered to bring shame not just on the individual but also negative attention to their family.


As a result of tribal community pressures, young people who have a different sexual orientation often grow up in a closeted existence or actual isolation. This imposed isolation is self-destructive and limits individuals from living to their fullest potential.  In a school environment, many of these young people are subjected to bullying and harassment from their classmates.  In this atmosphere, support is generally unavailable and creates an unsafe environment within the school.  Nonetheless, there are exceptional gay students who somehow endure and who are accepted as equals by their peers.  However, the majority of gay students exhibit behaviors such as skipping school, which affects their academic performance, or simply will become a run away from both home and school.

For the Native LGBT who seeks life in a city for anonymity, the experience can be far more negative than staying within their home community.  Like most natives reared in a tribal community, Native LGBT retain pride in their identity, where they are from and who are their relatives.  Living in a city can unfortunately give a sense of alienation that is both physical and emotional.  Native LGBT individuals often grieve their separation from family and community when they are unaccepted in a city because of their lifestyle as well as being a Native.  This experience results in a double discrimination for Native LGBT instead of the desired anonymity. 




Native American LGBTQ Suicide Resources
Wikipedia: Two Spirit
YouTube: Charlie Ballard: Being Gay and Native American
Two Spirited Tradition
Native Out Blog
Out History: Gay Native Americans
Frameline Video: Two Spirit People

Two Spirit Native American Stories


Two-Spirit People

Two-Spirit is an umbrella term sometimes used by Native American and Canadian First Nation communities to refer to those who fulfill one of many mixed gender roles.  Two-Spirit people are generally defined as LGBT and gender-variant members of the Native American/First Nation communities.  Many contemporary LGBT North American indigenous or aboriginal people use the term “Two-Spirit” to maintain cultural continuity with their traditions.


In many cultures, some individuals possessed and manifested a balance of both feminine and masculine energies, making them inherently sacred people.  Third gender roles historically embodied by Two-Spirit people include performing work and wearing clothes associated with both men and women. The presence of two-spirits was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples. Male and female two-spirits have been documented in over 150 tribes, in every region of North America, serving specific duties, including men fulfilling women’s roles, women fulfilling men’s roles, and importantly, Two-Spirit individuals contributing as spiritual leaders.


It is documented in academic literature that many American Indian cultures honored and respected alternative sexual lifestyles and gender roles, which the Two-Spirit movement is attempting to recover. A complex sex/gender system was found in every region of the continent, among every type of Native culture, from the small bands of hunters in Alaska to the populous, hierarchical city-states in Florida. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender orientations were honored and often coincided with healing and shamanic practices.



Here are some Native American names for Two-Spirit people:


Badé / Boté (Crow people)

Warhameh (Cocopa people)

Joya (Chumash people)

Kwiraxame (Maricopa people)

Ihamana (Zuni people)

Winkte (Lakota people)

Nadleeh (Navajo people)


Before the late twentieth century, the term “berdache” was widely used by anthropologists as a generic term to indicate two-spirit individuals.  However, this term has become increasingly outdated and considered offensive. The term “Two-Spirit” gained widespread popularity in 1990 during the third annual intertribal Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg.


"Two-spirited" or "two-spirit" usually indicates a person whose body simultaneously manifests both a masculine and a feminine spirit. These individuals were sometimes viewed in certain tribes as having two spirits occupying one body. Their dress is usually a mixture of traditionally male and traditionally female articles. They have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes. The term can also be used more abstractly, to indicate presence of two contrasting human spirits (such as Warrior and Clan Mother) or two contrasting animal spirits (which, depending on the culture, might be Eagle and Coyote).


Two-Spirit is a native tradition that researchers have identified in some of the earliest discoveries of native artifacts. Much evidence indicates that native people, prior to colonization, believed in the existence of cross-gender roles, the male-female, the female-male, what we now call the Two-Spirited person. Two-spirits might have relationships with people of either sex.  Female-bodied two-spirits usually had sexual relations or marriages with only females.




In Native American/First Nation culture, before the Europeans came to the Americas, "two-spirit" referred to an ancient teaching. Native elders tell of people who were gifted among all beings because they carried two spirits, that of male and female. It is told that women engaged in tribal warfare and married other women, as there were men who married other men. These individuals were looked upon as a third and fourth gender in many cases and in almost all cultures they were honored and revered.


Two-spirit people were often the visionaries, the healers, the medicine people, the nannies of orphans, the care givers. They were respected as fundamental components of their ancient culture and societies. In some tribes, male-bodied two-spirits held specific active roles which, varying by tribe, may include:  healers or medicine persons, conveyors of oral traditions and songs, foretellers of the future, conferrers of lucky names on children or adults, nurses during war expeditions, potters, matchmakers, makers of feather regalia for dances, and special role players in the Sun Dance.


Although two-spirits were both respected and feared in many tribes, the two-spirit was not beyond reproach or even being killed for bad deeds. They frequently became medicine persons and were likely to be suspected of witchcraft in cases of failed harvest or of death. They were, like any other medicine person, frequently killed over these suspicions.  At the same time, traditional Two-Spirit customs and ceremonies have, in many cases, been replaced with Anglo-Christian ideology and homophobia.




Wikipedia: Two Spirit

Wikipedia: Two Spirit Identity Theory

About: Two Spirit

Documentary Film: Two Spirits

IMDB: Two Spirits

Native Out: Two Spirit History

Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society

Mending the Rainbow: Working with Two Spirit Communities

Androgyne: Two Spirit Tradition

Who Are the Two Spirits?

Native Two Spirits

Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits

Safe and Caring Schools for Two Spirit Youth

Two Spirit Youth Speak Out

Two Spirit Youth Suicide


Native Americans and Marriage Equality

September 2011


Just as the United States debates whether or not to end the exclusion of same-sex couples and their families from marriage, Native American tribes are addressing the same issue. Native American tribes are federally recognized sovereign nations, thus they can create their own policies around marriage for same-sex couples.


Native American tribes have historically accepted LGBT and Two Spirit same-sex relationships, and in 2009 the Coquille Tribe of Oregon became the first tribe in the nation to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.


The Coquille Indian Tribe established marriage as a fundamental right and institution that preserves the Tribe’s integrity, cohesiveness and continuity. The Coquille tribe is the first Native American tribe to uphold the freedom to marry in its Tribal Code, which describes marriage as a “civil contract entered into between two persons regardless of their sex, who are at least 18 years of age, who are otherwise capable of entering a Marriage or a Domestic Partnership and at least one of whom is a member of the Coquille Indian Tribe.”


On August 1, 2011 the Suquamish Tribal Council in Washington state unanimously voted to extend marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples, making them the second Native American tribe in the US to do so. The vote formalizes a decision made by the 300 attendees of the tribe’s annual meeting at the Port Mason Indian Reservation in Washington state in March, following the request of 28-year-old tribe member Heather Purser, who is a lesbian.


Purser said she expected some dissent when she asked for a formal vote, and was surprised when none was voiced. Instead, when Purser took the microphone and made her plea that the 1,000-member tribe fully and legally accept marriages for gay and lesbian couples by way of a 'voice vote,' the room was filled with a chorus of affirmation.




Native Americans: Freedom to Marry

GLAAD: Native Americans and Same Sex Marriage

Washington Native American Tribe Legalizes Same Sex Marriage


Susan Allen: LGBT Native American Legislator

January 2012

Minnesota Women and the LGBT Community Score Electoral Victories!  In a special election, Susan Allen won a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives. One of two Minnesota women who won seats at a special election, Susan Allen becomes the first openly lesbian Native American to be elected to a state legislature.


Political women in Minnesota made history January 10 in special elections to replace retired state legislators. Democratic Farmer Labor candidate Susan Allen is going to the Minnesota House of Representatives as the first openly lesbian Native American to be elected to a state legislature. And Kari Dziedzic, also DFL, won election to the Minnesota Senate. Together they raise the number of women holding legislative seats in the state from 65 to 67—a number that is, however, still below the high of 70 of 201 seats held by women from 2006 to 2010.



Susan Allen, a 48-year old attorney, said of her district, “It reminds me of a lot of the places I grew up; it’s 62 percent minority.” The district borders one represented since 1980 by Karen Clark, who is also openly lesbian. Allen sees her experience as a single mother reliant on public transportation and assistance as an important perspective to bring to the legislature.


Allen said “This is a big win as an LGBT candidate, for communities of color and especially for the American Indian community. I felt that this is important to be running as an out lesbian Native American. It is interesting that some publications for Native Americans are reluctant to print that. I think that this is something that we’re struggling with in minority communities. I think it is really important to start talking about that and to have some sort of healing process.”


Allen’s election is particularly poignant in light of a measure that will be on the 2012 general election ballot in Minnesota. Republicans, who had gained control of both legislative houses in 2010 for the first time in 40 years, passed legislation in the 2011 session to put an amendment on the ballot banning gay marriage. They resorted to a ballot question in order to bypass DFL Governor Mark Dayton, a long-time supporter of LGBT rights who indicated he would veto any legislation seeking to limit rights for LGBT citizens of Minnesota.


Susan Allen was born in 1963 on the Ute Reservation in Utah. She is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Allen graduated from Augsburg College in 1992. She later earned a J.D. from the University of New Mexico and an LL.M. from William Mitchell College of Law. Her law practice specializes in serving tribes, helping them draft tribal laws in a wide range of areas.

When state Representative Jeff Hayden was elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2011, Allen was one of four candidates to run for his vacated seat. She won the nomination and the special election handily. She is one of three LGBT members of the Minnesota legislature, a larger number than most states.

Minnesota Women and LGBT Community Score Political Victories




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Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama