After an armed gunman wielding an assault rifle and handgun opened fire at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 50 people and injuring 53, the Two Spirit and LGBTQ communities turned to social media to share their thoughts with a worldwide audience. Though the FBI is regarding the attack as an act of a radical terrorist, some Two Spirit and LGBTQ advocates, such as Shawnee Talbot, say the acts are perhaps more appropriately labeled as homophobic.
Talbot is a First Nations singer and songwriter whose work has appeared on Disney TV and the television series "Mohawk Girls" and has shared the stage with Lady Gaga and Roxette, among many others. She identifies as Two Spirit and works as an advocate for LGBTQ and Aboriginal women's rights.
Talbot said she is “battling with anger and is overwhelmed with sadness by the hateful actions” that have affected her community. “This tragedy was driven by homophobia and hate and it makes me realize how much work we have in front of us,” she said.
Talbot also said she refuses to hide or retreat based on the actions resulting in such a tragedy. “I am even more proud to be who I am as a Two Spirit person,” she explained. “I say to my community, together we will change the world to understand love in its entirety and I love you all so very much for that.”
Eastern Band Cherokee and Native Philadelphian singer/songwriter/dancer Tony Enos is Two Spirit and an advocate for the East Coast Two Spirit Society. In October of 2015, Enos released a single entitled “Two Spirit” which he describes as “a song for the movement that welcomes Two Spirits from all Nations back into the sacred hoop.”
Enos said the news was horrible and tragic, and that it was important to focus on the positive in the face of such poisonous behavior during the mourning and grieving process.
“What is most important is not to let this type of wickedness and evil set up shop in your spirit,” Enos told ICTMN. “They lost their lives, so we need to cling to the light even more and not let this spiritual decay set up shop. Don't take this in and don't let it stay there, because then it becomes poison and then it stops you from living, it stops you from being yourself, accepting yourself and accepting others.”
Enos said that such actions cause fear in his community, especially as he prepares to attend the New York Gay Pride parade with fellow members of the the East Coast Two Spirit Society.
Photo: Courtesy East Coast Two Spirit Society
The East Coast Two Spirit society at NYC Pride 2015.
“All of this makes you afraid,” said Enos. “We have New York Gay Pride coming up which is one of the biggest prides around, and this is frightening. But I will be there because back in the day, that was our job. This is our job to be on the front lines marching and dancing. Today I will dance for everyone at the [Drums Along the Hudson] pow wow here in New York.”
Seattle-based writer D.A. Navoti (Hopi, Pima, Zuni, Yavapai-Apache) whose work has appeared in Spartan, The Explicator, Catapult, and NativeOUT is an active member of the LGBTQ communities. He told ICTMN in an email, “It was heartbreaking first hearing about the news before I went to bed. First reports of a shooting at an Orlando nightclub were just surfacing. Having to wake up and read about the details was intense.
“With so many lives lost, it's difficult to make sense of this violent tragedy. For now, I stand and mourn with others in the LGBTQ community at a candlelight vigil tonight,” Navoti wrote. “The Seattle LGBTQ community mourns during a time of what should be full of celebrations, for our pride festivities started this weekend. Instead, we continue to ask the question: ‘Why did this happen?’”
Layha Spoonhunter, a 26-year-old youth consultant, motivational speaker, National Congress of American Indians youth cabinet member and Two Spirit advocate who was present at this past week’s Gay Pride reception in Washington D.C., says his comments to ICTMN were the hardest statement he has ever had to write. He shared the following email:
“I am extremely saddened and shocked at the events that occurred in Florida last night. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the innocent victims who were killed simply for being who they are. Homophobia and discrimination against the LGBTQ and Two Spirit community should not happen. Too many times in our nation our community faces violence and ridicule.
“Pride is a time to celebrate our identity for who we are in a society that often doesn't allow us to. What should have a celebration of love, equality and hope is now a time of sadness and a time to reflect on the work we still have left to do.
“This past week I had the honor of attending the White House Pride Reception hosted by President Obama. The President quoted civil rights icon Bayard Rustin and said we need to be ‘angelic troublemakers’ in a time of great change in our nation. Now just three days later, we know that we still have great work ahead.
“It's not easy, but my advice to our Two Spirit Community is to keep moving forward so that we can leave a better tomorrow for our future generations. Today we mourn, but over the next few weeks, we will remain resilient and take pride.”
President Obama, who on Thursday lauded his administration’s efforts to expand rights to LGBTQ Americans during his final White House Pride reception, responded to the tragedy shortly before noon. “We stand with the people of Orlando who have endured a terrible attack on their city,” Obama said during a press conference. “Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.”
Photo Vincent Schilling
President Obama welcomed Justin Trudeau and family earlier this year to the White House.
In addition to President Obama’s statement about the tragedy, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement after hearing of the fatal shooting in Orlando, Florida:
“I am deeply shocked and saddened to learn today so many people have been killed and injured following a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. On behalf of the Government of Canada, Sophie and I offer our condolences and prayers to the families and friends of those lost today, and wish a full recovery to all those injured. We stand in solidarity with Orlando and the LGBTQ community. We grieve with our friends in the United States and Florida, and offer any assistance we can provide.”
Follow ICTMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wow’s and Sports Editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling