Every year across the world, the LGBTQ2S community celebrates Pride Month to honor the history and milestones of the gay rights movement.
Although the Two Spirit and indigenous LGBTQ community is frequently left out of mainstream Pride observances, they face more social hardships. According to a 2014 study by the Williams Institute, Native American LGBTQ youth were more likely to attempt suicide compared to African American, Asian, and Caucasian LGBTQ youth.
To celebrate Two Spirit/LGBTQ pride, we at ICTMN recognize and honor indigenous pioneers, both past and present.
Here are seven amazing Two-Spirit/LGBTQ Natives you should know about:
Born in 1849, We’wha was an accomplished potter and weaver and a deeply respected spiritual leader for her people. In 1886, she was selected as cultural ambassador for the Zuni and traveled to Washington D.C. and shook hands with President Grover Cleveland as a representative of the tribe. According to Will Roscoe’s book The Zuni Man-Woman, and unbeknownst to President Cleveland, We’wha was born male but dressed in traditional women’s Zuni garments.
Tony Enos (Eastern Band Cherokee)
Tony Enos is a Two Spirit gay man. His music video Two Spirit had its world premiere last year on October 11, 2015, on National Coming Out Day. In an email with ICMTN, Enos wrote that he is grateful for the East Coast Two Spirit Society which,during its annual gathering, helped film the video.
Layha Spoonhunter (Eastern Shoshone, Northern Arapaho, Oglala Lakota)
Layha Spoonhunter is a Two Spirit bisexual who participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s three-part blog series for Native American Heritage Month. In 2014, Layha was awarded the UNITY 25 Under 25 Youth Leadership Award.
According to UNITY’s website, its mission is to “foster the spiritual, mental, physical, and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth and to help build a strong, unified, and self-reliant Native America through greater youth involvement.”
In 2016, Layha attended the 2016 White House LGBT Pride Reception and is embarking on the One Heart, Two Spirits Tour, a tour in which Spoonhunter will travel and speak on Native LGBTQ and Two Spirit issues.
Follow Layha on Twitter at @layhaps.
Pine Leaf/Woman Chief (Gros Ventre/Crow)
Born in the early 19th century into the Gros Ventre Nation, ‘Woman Chief’ was captured by the Crow at age 10, wrote Will Roscoe in his book Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. After her adoptive Crow father died, Woman Chief assumed both the duties of both father and mother for her siblings. Years later, the rifle-wielding Woman Chief led war parties into her 40s, became third highest leader of 160 lodges, and married four wives in her lifetime.
Beverly Little Thunder (Standing Rock Lakota)
In her essay I am a Lakota Womyn, Beverly Little Thunder wrote about her rejection from the Sun Dance Ceremony, a traditional Lakota ceremony, for being a Two Spirit lesbian. She wrote, “I was told [by two older Lakota woman] that our people have trouble remembering the place of honor that my kind once held.”
She was instructed to listen to Spirit and create her own ceremony. She did and the Women’s Sun Dance is now nearly three decades long according to Kunsi Keya Tamakoce’s website, which hosts the women-only Sun Dance every July. In 2016, Beverly published her memoir, One Bead at a Time.
Zachary Pullin (Chippewa Cree of Rocky Boy)
Zachary Pullin is Aayahkwew (traditional Cree word for “neither man nor woman”) and Director of Communications and Education at the Pride Foundation in Seattle. In 2014, Pullin was a Grand Marshal for Seattle’s Gay Pride Parade and led the Soulforce Equality Ride, which works to end political and religious oppression of LBTQI people.
Follow Zachary on Twitter at @zacharybob.
Born in 1854, Osh-Tisch was a traditional Crow boté, and a third gender person, wrote Will Roscoe in his book Changing Ones. As a boté, Osch-Tisch won notoriety for her bravery while fighting in the Battle of Rosebud and fulfilled special religious roles in Crow ceremonies.
But as the U.S. government began enforcing a “campaign of morality,” all members of the boté community were forced to cut their hair and wear clothing according to their birth sex, which the Crow and their chief protested against. Missionaries eventually turned Crow attitudes against third-gendered people, and when Osh-Tisch died at age 75, she was named the last of the boté.
D.A. Navoti (Hopi, Pima, Zuni, Yavapai-Apache) is a Seattle-based writer. Follow D.A. on Twitter at @DANavoti